An offer by the Indian Government to conduct talks aimed at stemming secessionist violence has been welcomed by a Church official in the Muslim-majority state of Jammu and Kashmir. Secessionists have yet to agree to enter into discussions. However, Father Saiju Chacko, who directs the local church's social works in Jammu and Kashmir, said he is optimistic about potential for dialogue to help resolve the long-running conflict. Father Chacko said the government should constitute a joint committee of people who respect the sentiments of Kashmiris and also form a special parliamentary committee. This followed a statement by Federal Home Minister Rajnath Singh, ahead of a four-day visit to the disputed area, that he is willing to speak with all stakeholders. "Anyone who helps us in resolving the problems pertaining to Kashmir, I am willing to meet him," Singh said. Previously, the government has refused to talk with militant groups fighting Indian rule. Three decades of violent separatist attacks and military suppression have claimed the lives of 100,000 militants, army personnel and civilians. This year, up until August, 252 people died. The opposition Congress Party also supports dialogue. "The federal government should talk to separatists and try to resolve the issue," said Ghulam Nabi Azad, who was part of a Congress Party delegation headed by former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, which visited the region last week. Congress Party state chief G.A. Mir told ucanews.com that New Delhi had so far failed to restore normalcy because of its past adamant stand against talking with separatist leaders. "We want talks be held in a conducive atmosphere so that tranquility and peace returns to the place," Mir said. However, there is a major stumbling block in that separatists have so far also shown little interest in dialogue with New Delhi.
Separatist leader and Kashmir’s chief religious cleric Mirwaiz Umar Farooq told ucanews.com that Kashmir is a political issue and not a mere administrative one. The government would need to outline an "official position" and a proper framework for proposed talks on such a crucial matter, he added. Separatists argue that the Muslim-majority region should have become part of Pakistan at partition from British India in 1947, however, Kashmiris were forced to join India.
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Some separatists still want Kashmir to become part of Pakistan while others want an independent state. Both India and Pakistan claim the region and now administer different parts of it, resulting in three major wars and myriad skirmishes. The head of the pro-India Peoples’ Democratic Front in Kashmir, Hakeem Yasin, told ucanews.com he wants the federal initiative to have a firm time frame and involve Pakistan as well as separatist leaders.