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KARACHI, March 26: The chairman of the All Parties Hurriyat Conference (APHC), Mirwaiz Umar Farooq, told a conference here on Sunday that he was “disappointed” at the pace of the peace process between India and Pakistan. The moot was also addressed by a sitting minister of the government of Indian-administered Jammu and Kashmir and by community leaders from Ladakh.

Speaking at a conference organized by the WSF and the Dawn Group of Newspapers at the Karachi Sports Complex, Mirwaiz said that “a lot more could be done” with regard to the peace process so that the lives of people affected by the conflict could improve. He said that responsibility for doing more fell “primarily” on India because it could rein in its security forces in Jammu and Kashmir, release all political prisoners, check human rights abuses by its forces and encourage people-to-people contact across the Line of Control.

Mirwaiz said that the time had now come for the fate of the people of Kashmir to be decided. He said there were various proposals and suggestions on a possible solution which needed to be discussed at the appropriate forums. He also criticized the role of international organizations such as the UN saying that they had often failed to deliver when their assistance and guidance was needed.

The APHC chief also seemed critical of Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s suggestion that the issue of Kashmir be de-linked during the ongoing peace process. “De-linking it does not help. It needs to be given top priority and solved with urgency because Kashmiris are dying every day,” he said. The conference provided an instance – perhaps the first time – of leaders from both sides of the LoC and various parts of Jammu and Kashmir meeting and speaking. However, several speakers were interrupted at times by a rowdy section of the audience, comprising mostly activists of the Balawaristan National Front and the Karakoram National Party, who kept on chanting slogans demanding independence and self-rule for Baltistan and the Northern Areas and “sardar ghaddar hai” (a reference presumably to Sardar Abdul Qayyum who was one of the speakers and also heckled.

The speakers also included a sitting minister of the government of Ghulam Nabi Azad whose coalition of the Congress party and the People’s Democratic League rules over Indian-administered Jammu and Kashmir. Minister for housing, transport and forests Tariq Hameed Karra spoke on behalf of his PDP party. He seemed conciliatory and said that the proposals presented by President Pervez Musharraf on resolving the dispute needed to be looked at objectively. He said all proposals should be judged on merit and not judged on the basis of who made them.

He said the Kashmir issue had entered a “defining moment” and that specific solutions now needed to be presented and discussed. He said his party wanted that the police should be given more responsibilities in internal security in Jammu and Kashmir. The PDP, he said, did not believe that the autonomy granted to Jammu and Kashmir under Article 370 of the Indian Constitution was the same as self-rule. During his speech, at one point he agreed with the position taken by President Musharraf saying that the general had himself ruled out self-rule and independence.

The head of his own faction of the APHC, the leader of the Jamaat-i-Islami, Syed Ali Shah Geelani, who was invited but could not attend the WSF conference because his passport remains with Indian authorities, sent a message which was read out. He said India should make a public declaration that Kashmir is a disputed territory and that the dispute was not territorial or even a bilateral one. Mr Geelani said that the right to self-determination “cannot be extinguished unless it is exercised”. He also demanded that the Indian government withdraw its troops from the territory, release all political prisoners and check human rights abuses. He said, there was no visible outcome of the talks so far, or of the confidence-building measures (CBMs) which had been initiated but whose impact had yet to be felt on the ground.

The chief of the JKLF, Yasin Malik, spoke on why he gave up the gun and took a peaceful road. He recounted his involvement in the struggle which, he said, began in 1984 when as a student leader he made a sticker showing a map of independent Kashmir, for which he was interrogated by the Indian military and sent to jail for three months. He also criticized the World Social Forum, saying that it was slowly losing touch with its primary objective, which was to give ordinary people a platform to speak. He said the forum was being taken over by intellectuals and that was not a good thing because intellectuals do not achieve anything because they are conformists. He said his “friend Arundhati Roy” was not attending the WSF in Karachi because she had told him that she was “getting tired of such events and because there was no follow-up”.

The President of the Muslim Conference and former AJK prime minister, Sardar Abdul Qayyum, spoke briefly, though he spent much of his speaking time addressing a section of the audience who had heckled him, telling them that he had thought the event was one where serious ideas and views would be exchanged and not where parties would show their muscle power. He spoke of the need for civil society to educate activists of political and citizen groups who could fight for their cause in a manner that governments would pay heed. He said a lot of distance had to be covered before the solution to the dispute was to be reached and that measures like demilitarization and self-rule were important milestones to that end.

A National Conference leader from Uri and a former finance minister in Farooq Abdullah’s government, Mohammad Sadiq Uri, also addressed the conference. He said his party recognized the “new reality” and had said so in a document that it prepared in 2004 when it was in power. He also disagreed with Mr Singh’s suggestion to de-link Kashmir from the ongoing peace talks.

The general secretary of the CPI(M) in Indian-administered Jammu and Kashmir, Yusuf Tarigami, also spoke to the audience. He was critical of both India and Pakistan for spending billions on weapons and on being obsessed with national security when their citizens did not have enough money to buy food or enough water to drink.

LADAKH: Two speakers came from Ladakh, which is part of Indian-administered Kashmir. One was Chailing Dorjae Lakruch who was introduced as head of Ladakh Hill Tract Development and chief of Ladakh Union Front. He came from Leh, Ladakh’s chief town. He said various Kashmiri leaders demanded various things and that people from Ladakh did not agree with them but wanted to remain with India. He said Ladakh was 50 per cent Buddhist and 50 per cent Muslim and the basis of what he was saying was language and culture.

Mohammad Raza Abbasi came from Kargil to speak. He was introduced as general-secretary of the Youth Volunteers Forum. He said he had relatives in Baltistan in Pakistan and that the whole area had a different identity but was given no representation in any discussions on Kashmir (something that his colleague from Leh had said as well). He said the people of his area want an open border so that they could meet their relatives across the LoC easily. He said they would like to be part of undivided Kashmir and if that was not possible than part of Greater Ladakh, which he said should include Gilgit and Baltistan as well. He said he was not happy to see that not a single speaker from that area had been invited to the conference.

JKLF chief Amanullah Khan, JKLF activist Farooq Siddiqui, JK People’s Forum head Farooq Rehman, Sardar Anwar Khan of the APHC (Geelani), Khalid Ibrahim, Indian journalist and rights campaigner Balraj Puri and Kashmiri journalist Anuradha Bhasin Jamawal also addressed the conference which was moderated by Hameed Haroon.