Sat, 09 Dec 2000

Chances of Indo-Pak talks remote

By Elizabeth Roche

NEW DELHI (AFP): The recent flurry of statements from India and Pakistan has taken the nascent peace process in Kashmir to a delicate stage, but analysts say direct talks are a remote possibility.

The peace process was initiated when New Delhi suspended counter-insurgency operations against Kashmiri militant groups on Nov. 27 for the Islamic holy month of Ramadhan.

On Dec. 2, Pakistan said its troops would exercise "maximum restraint" along the Line of Control (LoC) which divides Indian- and Pakistan-controlled Kashmir.

Pakistan also said it was willing to enter into "meaningful dialogue" with India and proposed that the All Parties Hurriyat Conference, the main Kashmiri separatist alliance, hold talks with Islamabad and New Delhi separately to pave the way for three-way talks.

India on its part welcomed the offer of "maximum restraint" but rejected the demand for tripartite talks, although Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee indicated that the month-long cease-fire in Kashmir could be extended.

Three prominent leaders of the Hurriyat are currently in New Delhi, reportedly for talks with the Indian leadership.

Earlier this week, Hurriyat chairman Abdul Gani Bhat said he was ready for talks with both India and Pakistan and added that the ceasefire had generated a "propitious" atmosphere for talks to solve the Kashmir issue.

Analysts, however, say short term prospects for any direct Indo-Pakistan dialogue are bleak.

"This is posturing, especially by Pakistan under international pressure," said Kalim Bahadur, a professor of South Asian Studies from New Delhi's Jawaharlal Nehru University.

"The positions taken by the two sides, are so rigid and inflexible that it is difficult to see them talking," he added.

Brahma Chellaney, an analyst with the Center for Policy Research, was equally pessimistic.

"I do not see any forward movement and certainly not towards talks of any kind, both sides are doing this due to international pressure," Chellaney said.

"Peace does not work when you are under pressure militarily ... right now I think it is the militants who are in control, striking targets at will."

A western diplomat in New Delhi said any negotiations would be carried out in secret.

"These official declarations are for public and foreign consumption. The real nitty-gritty will be sorted out behind closed doors," the diplomat said.

Experts are unsure if the Hurriyat can play any meaningful role in resolving the Kashmir dispute as they are perceived to be pro-Pakistani.

"The Hurriyat does not represent the Kashmiri people -- just one section of opinion," says Chellany.

But Bharat Karnad, another analyst with the Center of Policy Research disagreed.

"The Hurriyat says that they are ready to talk to both sides so they could set the dialogue process in motion," Karnad said, adding that while Pakistan could claim that the talks were tripartite, New Delhi could say it was talking to the Hurriyat and Islamabad separately.

New Delhi is unlikely to take a decision on talks until after it gauges the success of the Ramadhan ceasefire.

India and Pakistan have fought two wars and a border conflict over Kashmir since 1947.

India accuses Pakistan of arming and training Muslim militants in Kashmir. Islamabad denies the charge but extends moral and diplomatic support to the insurgency which has claimed 34,000 lives since 1989.