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Sunday, December 21, 2008

Like Palestine, Kashmir has served as a call to arms for countless acts of Islamist violence. Basharat Peer describes life in Kashmir

The process of negotiations between India and Pakistan is all but dead in the wake of Mumbai, but perhaps there is some hope to be drawn from the coming inauguration of Barack Obama, who has indicated he will focus on resolving the Kashmir conflict. Obama and his advisers believe peace in Kashmir will allow Pakistan to focus on policing its troubled north-west and co-operate more closely with the US in Afghanistan. India has repeated its stand against “outside interference” in Kashmir, but among Kashmiris Obama’s remarks have been cause for some excitement. “After a very long time we are seeing a statesman who understands the overlap between the crises stretching from Kashmir to Afghanistan and is taking a holistic view. Our fingers are crossed,” said Sajad Lone, whose father, another moderate politician, was killed by pro-Pakistan militants in 2002 for advocating dialogue with India. “Obama is the harbinger of hope for Kashmir.”

Perhaps Lone’s words sound naive – but having grown up with war in Kashmir and written about it for a decade, I can say with confidence that this is the first moment in the past 20 years that an American president has spoken with any seriousness about finding a solution for Kashmir. I know well the desperation of Kashmiris to have their voices heard, for I too have searched hard for listeners, from Delhi to London to New York; the constant suffering of Kashmir has rarely moved the rest of the world. Obama, it is true, is not swayed by the human costs or tales of pain and endurance, but by geopolitical calculations. Yet an intervention on those terms is no less worthwhile, for the dividends of a just peace in Kashmir will be many: greater political and economic stability in South Asia, an end to suffering for millions of Kashmiris, billions in defence expenditures saved by India and Pakistan – and the revival of relations across a border that has recently trafficked only in blood....


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