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Kashmiris angry, distrust Pak parties

india Updated: Mar 03, 2008 23:12 IST
Sheikh Mushtaq
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Kashmiris accused Pakistani political parties on Monday of turning their back on them and their struggle against Indian occupation after last month's elections in Pakistan.

Anger simmered in Jammu and Kashmir after Asif Ali Zardari, leader of the Pakistan People's Party (PPP), told an Indian television channel that relations between India and Pakistan should not be held "hostage" to the Kashmir issue.

Zardari angered Kashmiris when he said the two countries could wait so that future generations resolve the dispute in an atmosphere of trust.

"Zardari is ready to sell us to India like chickens," said 25-year-old student Gouse Mohammad. "I don't expect much from other leaders, they want to please India."

The PPP and Nawaz Sharif's Pakistan Muslim League won most of the seats in last month's elections and are negotiating to form a coalition government, with issues like Kashmir on the backburner for the moment.

Furious at some of the statements, separatist groups in Kashmir said they would continue their struggle with or without Islamabad's support.

"It looks like PPP is backing out, but let me (make) clear to Islamabad, with or without the support of Pakistan, our freedom struggle will reach its logical end," said Shabir Ahmad Shah, a senior separatist leader.

"We will continue our fight, and occupation will not last forever." The 19-year-old separatist revolt in the disputed Himalayan region has killed more than 42,000 people, officials estimate.

India accuses Pakistan of arming, training and funding Kashmiri rebels, but Islamabad says it only provides "moral, political and diplomatic support".

Few Kashmiris were enthusiastic about the restoration of democracy in Pakistan. "Zardari and Sharif are stooges of India, how can we expect support from them if they form a new government in Pakistan?" said Farooq Shah, a Kashmiri shopkeeper.
"Gone are the days when Kashmir was Pakistan's jugular vein."

There has been little substantial progress on the Kashmir dispute since India and Pakistan, who rule the region in parts, launched a peace process in 2004.

But violence involving separatist militants and Indian soldiers has fallen significantly. Syed Ali Shah Geelani, a hard line separatist leader, said Pakistan had abandoned Kashmir long before these elections.

"It is not the future government ... after 9/11, the Pakistan government has taken a U-turn on Kashmir. Pakistan should do some rethinking and support the Kashmiri cause," he said.

Pakistan came under renewed international pressure over its support for Kashmiri militants in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks on the United States and global condemnation of terrorism.

But Indian government officials in Kashmir said they hoped democracy in Pakistan would help normalise relations. "People are tired of violence and they are now worried about economic issues and want peace for progress and prosperity," said Kashmir's social welfare minister, Abdul Gani Vakil.

(Editing by Bappa Majumdar and Jerry Norton)