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Saturday, 5 August, 2000, 00:06 GMT 01:06 UK
Analysis: Chance for peace in Kashmir?
Government talks with militants
Kashmir was agog when the talks took place
By Mike Wooldridge in Srinagar

Indian Government and militant negotiators in Kashmir are preparing for the next round of the talks they began on Thursday.

It is an initiative that appears to have divided the militant movement but which has left many Kashmiris asking whether there could now be light at the end of their dark tunnel of violence.

After at least 25,000 deaths over the 11 years since the campaign of separatist militancy erupted in Indian Kashmir, the first week in August saw a spate of attacks and gun battles that left nearly 100 people dead, including more than 20 Hindus undertaking the pilgrimage to the famous Amarnath cave shrine.

Man mourns relative killed in attacks
India has blamed Pakistani militants for the killings
Whether or not India is right in laying the blame for the attacks on militant groups opposed to its tentative peace initiative with the influential Hizbul Mujahideen, the sudden upsurge in violence against civilians seemed an ill-omen for the talks.

But just two days later, masked Hizbul Mujahideen commanders were sitting down with Indian Government representatives at a government guest house in Srinagar, and Kashmir was agog.

"It was a big surprise," said a woman student at the University of Kashmir.

"In 10 years, we've never seen anything like that. We've never had such talks in 10 years either - maybe some solution will come."

Several of her fellow students walking on the campus expressed similar optimism.

Pilgrims came under fire in this week's killings
One said there had been a drastic change in Kashmir this week. But others felt it was too early to say whether peace might come to the Kashmir Valley.

Not unexpectedly, a widespread view in Kashmir this weekend on the talks between the government and Hizbul Mujahideen seems to be that they depend in large measure for their success on whether the Indian Government is sincere.

The ceasefire by Hizbul Muhajideen, initially for three months, has given Delhi an opportunity to seize, analysts here feel.

The initiative that is now being launched may be able to withstand arguments and even disruption, but if there were to be a complete breakdown in the talks, that may be another matter.

Talks 'directionless'

It now appears the Hizbul Mujahideen ceasefire may not have been so sudden after all, but that it was being mooted for some time.

Relative of injured man
People are asking whether the talks mark the beginning of the end of the violence
Hizbul Mujahideen is said to have shared its thinking with members of the above-ground separatist political alliance, the All-parties Hurriyat Conference.

When the ceasefire was announced, Hizbul Mujahideen indicated that it would concentrate on firming up the ceasefire arrangements and it would leave any political talks with the Indian Government on Kashmir to the Hurriyat Conference.

But the Hurriyat does not so far seem to be keen to seize whatever political space is being created.

It says it is concerned that the government and Hizbul Mujahideen are embarking on talks that are directionless.

The issue this weekend is who is leading the mood of the majority of Kashmiris, who point out that they have borne the brunt of the violence for more than a decade.

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See also:

04 Aug 00 | South Asia
Pakistan 'linked to Kashmir killings'
04 Aug 00 | South Asia
Violent 'army of the pure'
03 Aug 00 | South Asia
Kashmir talks make progress
02 Aug 00 | South Asia
Kashmir spirals into violence
26 Jul 00 | South Asia
Kashmir truce condemned
24 Jul 00 | South Asia
Kashmir militants offer ceasefire
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