Jammu-Srinagar Diocese welcomes initiative for peace in Kashmir

Church believes dialogue involving all stakeholders provides the only prospect for peace
Jammu-Srinagar Diocese welcomes initiative for peace in Kashmir

Indian military men fire tear gas shells at protesters in Srinagar during clashes on Oct. 20. More than 250 people have been killed in the first nine months of this year in violent incidents. (Photo by Umer Asif/ucanews.com)

A church official in India’s strife-torn Jammu and Kashmir state bordering Pakistan has welcomed the government’s appointment of an interlocutor to initiate a peace dialogue.

"Now that dialogue has been announced officially, everyone who has a stake in peace must be heard, including political, social and religious organizations," said Father Saiju Chacko, spokesperson for Jammu-Srinagar diocese covering the entire state.

The Muslim-dominated region has experienced internecine violence since Islamic groups began an armed struggle more than 30 years ago to free the region from Indian rule.

Some "freedom fighters" want to make the region an independent state, while others want to join with neighboring Islamic Pakistan. 

The initiative for dialogue is seen as a major policy shift by the pro-Hindu Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which has been accused of using excessive military force to suppress the rebellion.

Bishop Ivan Pereira of Jammu-Srinagar, as well as other social and cultural leaders, has been calling for dialogue.

However, the government earlier refused to hold talks directly with "separatists" opposed to Indian rule.

 Violence increased after the army shot dead militant leader Burhan Wani on July 8 last year.

In ensuing clashes between protesters and government forces more than 90 people have been killed and 11,000 injured.

Sporadic clashes, curfews and clampdowns in the region continue to adversely affect daily life.

Father Chacko told ucanews.com that the church believes dialogue involving all stakeholders provides the only prospect for peace.

Federal home minister Rajnath Singh announced in New Delhi on Oct. 23 that the government was re-starting dialogue in Kashmir.

He appointed former Intelligence Bureau chief Dineshwar Sharma as the government’s interlocutor. 

"We are ready to talk to everyone in Jammu and Kashmir," Singh said.

India’s finance minister and senior BJP leader, Arun Jaitly, said on October 25 that if "some section" was not ready to join the dialogue, the government could still talk to students, traders’ associations, various political leaders and the Kashmiri people.

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Interlocutor Sharma, who plans to visit Kashmir next week, told the media that he is ready to talk to all stakeholders, including separatists.

"Let us hope for the best," he said. "I am hopeful I will deliver."

Some separatists, who advocate non-violence, have neither welcomed or opposed the dialogue move.

However Syed Salah-ud-din, chief of the United Jihad Council, an amalgam of various militant organizations, in a statement on Oct. 25 called the announced dialogue a "big joke."

Kashmir was neither a territorial dispute between two countries nor an internal issue of any country, the statement said.

Both India and Pakistan now administer parts of the Kashmir region, which has been at the center of three major wars between the two South Asian nations and myriad skirmishes since British rule ended on the subcontinent in 1947.

Militants in 1989 launched a full-scale guerrilla campaign against the Indian government.

More than 100,000 people, including militants and civilians, have been killed in the conflict.

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