Northern Areas' leaders seek India's help, slam Hurriyat


New Delhi: Leaders of Gilgit-Baltistan, part of Northern Areas in the Pakistan-administered Kashmir, Saturday sought their inclusion in the negotiation process on the Kashmir issue as well as India's help in curbing atrocities against the people of their region.

"We should be involved in the process of negotiation. If a solution is arrived at without consultations with us, we will not accept it," Manzoor Hussain Parwana, chairman of Gilgit-Baltistan United Movement, told reporters here.

Parwana had come here along with nearly 30 leaders representing different constituencies in Kashmir, including PoK, Northern Areas and the Kashmiri diaspora, to attend a two-day international conference to find "alternative futures" for Kashmir.

The seminar was organised to provide a forum to those who have accepted democratic constraints and speak the language of civilisation, but have been marginalised in the public discourse on Kashmir, said Ajai Sahni, executive director of the Institute for Conflict Management, a think tank dealing with security issues.

The Kashmiri leaders are likely to meet National Security Adviser M.K. Narayanan and Foreign Secretary Shyam Saran later Saturday. Efforts are on to set up a meeting with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, official sources said.

"Till the resolution of the Kashmir issue, we should be given political rights and self rule," Parwana demanded.

"We want India to speak up against atrocities perpetrated by the Pakistani government against indigenous people of Gilgit-Baltistan," he said.

"For the last 60 years, we have not been given political rights. Why has India not helped us?" he said.

A two-day roundtable on the Kashmir issue beginning May 24, to be chaired by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in Srinagar, seeks to carry forward the process of broadening consultations between key stakeholders in the talks on Kashmir. The Hurriyat is yet to take a decision on its participation.

New Delhi had condemned the use of military force by the Pakistani army against civilians protesting against state-sponsored persecution of Shias, who form a majority of the population in the Northern Areas. Pakistan has accused India of fomenting insurgency in the area - a charge New Delhi has denied.

Another Baltistan leader protested against excessive prominence given to the Hurriyat and the propagators of the culture of gun and blamed them for their indifference to the problems of their region.

"We don't recognise the Hurriyat. There is no representation of the Hurriyat in Baltistan. We want to fight for our political rights," said Mirza Wajahat Hussain, president of Gilgit-Baltistan Thinker Forum.

M.M. Khajuria, former director general of police (DGP) of Jammu and Kashmir, admitted that India needed to use its influence to stop what many say are "attempts at demographic engineering" in Gilgit-Baltistan. "We have failed the people of Baltistan and Gilgit," he said.

"We are fed up with guns. We want complete demilitarisation of the whole of Kashmir," Hasheem Qureshi, president of the Jammu and Kashmir Democratic Liberation Front.

He accused the Hurriyat of playing into the hands of the Pakistani establishment. "Who is Hurriyat? They want accession to Pakistan. They are following the agenda of (Pakistan President Pervez) Musharraf," he said.

"Instead of listening to Hurriyat, both India and Pakistan should be listening to the common people," he said.

Echoing the same thoughts, Syed Nazir Gilani, chairman of International Kashmir Alliance, said: "Instead of focusing on the elite, we have to empower the common people of Kashmir."

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