May 26, 2006

Kashmir rebels see no value in India talks, panels

SRINAGAR, India (Reuters) - Indian Kashmir's chief Islamic
priest and leading separatist on Friday dismissed talks between
New Delhi and local political leaders as a useless "seminar"
that failed to achieve anything.

After two days of talks with mainly pro-Indian politicians
-- separatists boycotted the round table -- Prime Minister
Manmohan Singh said on Thursday he had asked them to set up
five panels to look at Kashmir's future, including one on
"special status."

But Mirwaiz Umar Farooq, the Kashmir Valley's chief Islamic
priest and head of the main separatist group, the All Parties
Hurriyat (Freedom) Conference, said the meeting had failed.

"We had some apprehensions about the round table conference
and the apprehensions came true. This conference was like a
seminar and failed to yield any result," he said in his Friday
sermon at the main mosque in the summer capital, Srinagar.

"For the permanent solution of the Kashmir dispute, it is
necessary that India, Pakistan and people from both parts of
Kashmir should be involved in talks. A series of talks and
agreements between Srinagar and New Delhi have failed."

The Pakistan-based chief of an alliance of Islamist
militant groups fighting New Delhi's rule said the guerrillas
would continue their battle until the region split from India.

"No other solution is acceptable to us," United Jihad
Council chairman Syed Salahuddin said in a statement published
in Indian Kashmir's leading English-language newspaper, Greater

"Militants will continue their struggle until they get
freedom from India. Independence is our right and we will get

While many dismissed Singh's visit -- his second Kashmir
round table this year -- the Indian Express newspaper said it
showed "New Delhi's intention to reach out" to Kashmiris.

But analysts say the key people were missing and New Delhi
had not done enough to prepare for the meeting.

"The people that really matter did not attend," columnist
and analyst Kuldip Nayar told Reuters. "These groups should
have been there. The ground preparations had not taken place.
When you hold talks at such a level of prime minister, you
should prepare."

Singh, elected to office two years ago this month, had
originally said he wanted "out-of-the-box thinking" on Kashmir,
but Nayar said he was now being influenced by hardliners.

"He started with an open mind, but has been influenced not
to break new ground by hawkish elements and the same old
prejudiced minds," he said.

More than 45,000 people have been killed since the revolt
against India's rule in its half of Kashmir broke out in 1989.

Separately, India and Pakistan ended two-day talks in New
Delhi over their maritime boundary dispute at Sir Creek, an
estuary opening into the Arabian Sea between the Indian state
of Gujarat and Pakistan's Sindh province without a

A joint statement said the two sides had agreed to conduct
a combined survey in the area between November and next March,
and to work for an early settlement of the dispute.