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Last Updated: Thursday, 8 May, 2003, 05:15 GMT 06:15 UK
Pakistan Kashmiris dream of independence

By Paul Anderson
BBC correspondent in Pakistan-administered Kashmir

What India and Pakistan negotiate about is not what many ordinary Kashmiris want.

We pray to God that we are united so that at least we can share our happiness one day and be together
Amina Samad

At a wedding in Muzaffarabad, the capital of Pakistani-controlled Kashmir, a henna party is in full swing.

This is a tradition in South Asia in which the women paint exotic designs on their hands, arms and feet, often symbolising fertility.

The music - Indian as it happens - is also in full swing.

The happy scenes notwithstanding, the mother of the bride, Amina Samad, is struck by a sadness which she hasn't been able to shake off for more than a decade.

Half of her family is stuck on the other side of the Line of Control which separates the Pakistani third of Kashmir from the Indian two-thirds.

They've no means to communicate, let alone see each other.

"We can't share our happiness with our families across the border," she says in the middle of the extravagant henna ceremony.

"We pray to God that we are united so that at least we can share our happiness one day and be together."

Vested interest

Some believe the moment for a meaningful dialogue on Kashmir has arrived, now that the United States has picked out stability in South Asia as a key foreign policy objective and is clearly trying to implement its objectives with such determination.

Our main target is to get both occupying forces out, to reunite Kashmir and have freedom - that doesn't seem to be the motives of the Indians or the Pakistanis
Zafar Sharif
Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front

Everyone in Pakistani-controlled Kashmir has a vested interest in the success of any Kashmir peace process which may emerge from the current thaw in Indo-Pak relations - but on their own often very different terms.

For those who have been fighting, first with arms, then with words, it's not about what India or Pakistan may get out of any talks or agreement.

It's about what Kashmiris stand to gain.

And that, according to Zafar Sharif, of the Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF), is the long-promised, but never-delivered, right to self-determination.

Kashmiri man
Politicians are now talking of dividing up Kashmir

"India and Pakistan have their economic interests in Kashmir and they want to protect them," he says.

"But our main target is to get both occupying forces out, to reunite Kashmir and have freedom. That doesn't seem to be the motives of the Indians or the Pakistanis."

Quite the opposite. Pakistan wants annexation of Kashmir in its entirety, righting what it sees as a wrong from the partition of India by the British in 1947.

India too wants all of Kashmir.

What's more, it won't even begin to hold talks until Pakistan stops what it calls cross-border terrorism.

So what chance of that?

Refugee support

Not much. Militants have declared they're not ready to give up operations.

There can be partition
Sardar Sikander Hayat
Prime Minister, Pakistani-controlled Kashmir

Support for what many Pakistanis call the armed struggle is particularly strong in refugee camps housing thousands of people driven from their homes by Indian security forces.

People like Mohammad Ashraf, who fled with his family in the early 1990s.

He is a teacher, accused by Indians of spreading sedition and militant techniques to his students.

"We will fight for our freedom, because it is our birthright. We will fight until our last breath. Kashmir does not belong to India and it has no right to stay here. One day Indian will soldiers go back," he says.

Young Kashmiris
Kashmiris 'have been trampled on'

But Sardar Sikander Hayat, the prime minister of Pakistani-controlled Kashmir, says pragmatism is called for.

He is beginning to voice what for some is a heresy - the idea that Kashmir can be carved up along ethnic lines.

"There can be partition," he said in a BBC interview in Muzaffarabad. "There can be accession with Pakistani areas. The valley can be given special status. There are so many solutions."

Kashmir's territorial division, he went on, "could be a face-saving solution to all the parties. But it is going to be a long process."

Kashmir 'real estate'

And no-one should be too speedy and too optimistic, cautions the Kashmir observer and nuclear specialist, Pervez Hoodbhoy. Pakistan and India have tried many times before to resolve Kashmir, and failed.

"We have a saying. When the elephants fight, the grass gets trampled," he says. "And that's exactly what's happened to the Kashmiris.

"They have been ravaged and savaged by the fighting between India and Pakistan, both of whom regard Kashmir as a piece of choice real estate.

"Their concern for the people of Kashmir is just in words not deeds.

"In fact if India and Pakistan cared about Kashmir they would have adopted very different policies."

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