SLUG: 4-48649 Yearender: Kashmir DATE: NOTE NUMBER:









INTRO: Earlier this year, President Clinton called the disputed Kashmir

region "the most dangerous place on earth." Mr. Clinton made his

comments shortly before he visited South Asia. He urged both India

and Pakistan to settle their differences over Kashmir, which is claimed

by both countries. V-O-A's Jim Teeple reports that, over the past year,

Indian officials took steps to ease tensions in Kashmir, but there is no

sign yet that Kashmir is any safer.



For the stonecarvers of Kashmir, the past year has been busy.

Carving tombstones is a growth industry. Indian officials say nearly three thousand people were killed in Jammu and Kashmir State in 2000. More than 30 thousand people have been killed in the state over the past ten years of the separatist insurgency. Jammu and Kashmir is India's only Muslim-majority state and many who live there say they want to leave India and either become independent or join Pakistan. India says the insurgency is simply acase of cross-border terrorism sponsored by Pakistan - a charge Islamabad denies.

Before he left for South Asia, President Clinton said he wanted to ease

tensions in Kashmir. Many in the region say they took that to mean Mr. Clinton wanted to mediate the Kashmir dispute. But, during his visit to India Mr. Clinton said he would not intervene in Kashmir, unless both India and Pakistan invited him. Kashmiris like Nizar Ahmed Khan - a dealer in Kashmir shawls in Srinagar - said they were disappointed by the president's stand.


We feel very bad. We were expecting Mr. Clinton to definitely intervene

in our matter this way. Because, after 20 years, he (a U-S president) was

paying a visit to India.


Indian officials said they appreciated Mr. Clinton's call for India and

Pakistan to respect the "line of control," which divides the territory.

They also said they welcomed the president saying he believed some elements within Pakistan's military backed the insurgency in Kashmir.

// OPT // Separatist political leaders in the state - like Umar Farooq,

the young mirvaiz, or hereditary religious leader of most of Kashmir's

Muslim population - said Kashmiris simply did not have the necessary

clout (power) to get the international community interested in solving their



That is how politics works. You cannot expect much, because we are the

weaker side. And, unfortunately, we do not have oil as the Kuwaitis

had. So we have to understand the fact that India is a big power and

that we have challenged a big power. and, so we have to get what we

want on our own.


Meanwhile, the violence continued. Suspected separatist militants killed

nearly 40 Sikh men and boys in March, on the eve of President Clinton's

visit to India. The attack was seen by many as a sign militants would do anything to sabotage any moves towards a negotiated settlement in Kashmir.

Militant groups also stepped up so-called "suicide attacks" against

Indian forces - staging a number of assaults on heavily guarded

installations, killing scores of Indian troops in the process.

Major-General J-R Mukherjee, the deputy army commander in Indian Kashmir

said while he did not agree with President Clinton's statement that

Kashmir was the most dangerous place on earth - he did say his forces

were becoming increasingly frustrated by the militants.


I do not think we are any closer to war than we were earlier. However,

what I cannot deny is that our patience is being sorely tried.


In August, there was a glimmer of hope. In a surprise declaration, the

largest militant group operating in Kashmir, Hizbul Mujahideen declared

a unilateral three-month cease-fire. In a dramatic gesture, Hizbul

commanders met publicly in Srinagar with India's home secretary. Both

sides had warm words for each other, following their meeting - agreeing to

meet again to see how the cease-fire could be made permanent.

Then, just as quickly, it was over. Hizbul commanders insisted India agree to accept Pakistan at the negotiating table - something New Delhi has long refused to consider. Within days the violence resumed, leaving scores dead.

// OPT // Farooq Abudullah - the state's chief minister, who is a

member of Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee's government and a staunch

supporter of Indian rule in Kashmir - spoke for many Kashmiris, on both

sides of the political debate, when he said the situation had become



Basically, it is the people of the state who are suffering. They are

the ones who are dying. They are the ones who are facing upheavals

every day. Our business is gone. Our educational structure is gone.

Our complete ethos is gone. What are we gaining except death and

destruction? There is not a day when we are not in the news, so we feel

the end should come.


But again, at year's end, there was another glimmer of hope - this time

from India's Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee who, at the end of

November, declared a unilateral cease-fire timed to coincide with Muslim

Ramadan observances. Separatist militants rejected the cease-fire but

separatist political leaders said they welcomed it and were ready to hold talks with India to resolve the Kashmir issue. Hamida Bano - a Kashmir human rights activist - said, like many in the troubled province, she was skeptical about India intentions. However, like many, she also said she was weary of the conflict and wanted to see the cease-fire



Let us begin by trusting them for the first time and say, "Okay, the

offer is genuine." We would also like the militants to respond

positively. Let us try and, if India backtracks on her own promise,

they will be exposed before the whole world, once again, as they have

been exposed before. If this is an initial step to set a lasting peace process in motion, we welcome it.


The cease-fire did hold. Authorities in Kashmir said some militant

attacks continued, but overall violence in the state was down. Indian

forces were under orders not to engage in offensive operations against

the militants. Both sides seemed to be using the opportunity to take a

much-needed rest.

In a further encouraging sign, Pakistan said it would observe what it

called "maximum restraint" along the Kashmir border and was prepared to

hold immediate talks with New Delhi. Indian Prime Minister Atal Behari

Vajpayee responded cautiously, saying India was ready for talks and that

there was pressure for talks from the international community; but

violence and terrorism must stop before any talks could begin. As the

year drew to a close, it seemed everyone was holding their breath,

waiting to see who would take the next step to determine whether or not

peace might have a chance in Kashmir. (Signed)