Kashmiris cross fingers before Musharaff's speech

Kashmiris on Monday waited impatiently for a speech by Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf in which he is expected to announce steps aimed at reducing tensions with India.

Musharraf is scheduled to make an address at 8:00 pm Indian time (1430 GMT) during which it is widely anticipated that he will spell out plans to address the growing concerns of India and the international community.

While the world hopes the speech will ease the stand-off between India and Pakistan, residents of Kashmir are waiting to see if it will lead to a reduction in violence and a lasting solution to the Kashmir dispute which is central to the nuclear-armed neighbours’ problems.

“I think every Kashmiri is looking forward to what Musharraf has to say,” said Javed Mir, a senior leader of Kashmir’s main separatist alliance, the All Party Hurriyat Conference (APHC).

“We are keeping our fingers crossed,” said Mir, whose group Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF) wants an independent Kashmir.

Political analyst Showket Ahmed believes the president is walking a tightrope between India’s demand to act against Pakistan-based militant groups and domestic pressure not to give in to New Delhi.

“Let’s see how he pledges to deal with the situation now that the world wants him to act and stop incursions into India,” he said.

India accuses Pakistan of funding and arming the unrest.

Islamabad denies the charge but says it renders political and moral support to Kashmiris’ right to self-determination. Indian and Pakistani troops have been massed along their shared border since a December 13 attack on the Indian parliament, which New Delhi blamed on two Pakistan-based militant groups.

The tension increased after India blamed a May 14 attack on a passenger bus and an army base in Jammu, the Kashmiri winter capital, on Pakistan-based militants.

The attacked left 35 people dead, mostly the wives and children of soldiers.

Indian Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee during his three-day tour of Kashmir last week told soldiers to be prepared for a “decisive fight”.

“It will be interesting to hear what Musharraf has to say,” said Tahir Mohiudin, editor of the Urdu weekly newspaper Chattan. “Musharraf’s speech will generate interest all over, and it needs to be seen how he convinces the world community.”

Many in Kashmir feel that his address will have a bearing on the future of the province.

Musharraf vowed a crackdown against extremist groups, including those active in Kashmir during his landmark speech of January 12.
Vajpayee said in Kashmir that Musharraf’s words did not meet his deeds, and that he was “disappointed”.

Pakistan’s tests of nuclear-capable missiles over the weekend have also hardened views within the Indian government that Islamabad is not serious about easing tensions.

But Kashmir residents hold out hope Musharraf may try to end the violence in their province.

“I think this time Musharraf will have a serious warning for all the groups operating within Pakistan and here,” said a former militant, Mushtaq Ahmed, who now runs a shop in Srinagar, the summer capital.

Ahmed says the world community should also step in and get the issue of Kashmir resolved once and for all. But more than anyone else it is the residents living near the borders who want an end to the tensions between the two countries.

The break-out of fresh cross-border artillery duels since May 17 between the two armies has left 58 people dead—42 Pakistanis and 16 Indians—and many more wounded.

“We are living in constant fear,” says Abdul Aziz, a resident of the border town of Uri.

“May this speech by Musharraf end hostilities forever,” he said, adding everyone in Uri, which has been shelled by Pakistan many times in the past, is “keen to listen to the speech”. - Sapa-AFP

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