Kashmir forgotten in dialogue

The people of Kashmir must be included in the dialogue between India and Pakistan about the disputed region, the president of the Kashmir Council of America said Sunday in a conference at Georgetown University.

Ghulam Nabi Fai, the president of the council, said that the 13 million people of Kashmir, a region north of India and Pakistan, should have a right to determine the future of their region.

The U.N. Security Council passed a resolution in 1948 declaring that the future of Kashmir should be determined through a vote of the people. The United States was a key sponsor of the resolution then and must champion the right to self-determination of the Kashmiri people now, Fai said.

According to Fai, one often hears people say that India and Pakistan must reach a solution that the two neighbors can accept, but there is no mention of a solution the people of Kashmir find reasonable. Nearly 80,000 Kashmiris have been murdered in the last 15 years, Fai said, yet Kashmiri people are not represented in peace talks between India and Pakistan.

Pakistan's ambassador to the United States, Ashraf Jehangir Qazi, was also present at the conference. "The victory will be neither Pakistan's nor India's. The victory belongs to Kashmir," he said.

Qazi said Kashmir has been the fundamental issue of contention between India and Pakistan for more than 50 years. Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf aims to reach a peaceful settlement in the coming months through political negotiations instead of military action, Qazi said.

A Kashmiri student from Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore followed Qazi's remarks by describing the bloodshed he witnessed upon visits to his homeland.

"Bullets are sprayed into unarmed crowds," the student said. "The brutality is staggering. My uncles and cousins have been jailed for dissidence. This violence pays no attention to ethnicity, color or religion." Professor Peter Howard, who teaches American foreign policy in AU's School of International Service, said later that if the United States committed itself to helping create a peaceful compromise between India, Pakistan and the Kashmiri people, "it would take away a major recruiting issue for Al Qaeda."

By playing a role in resolving this issue, the United States would greatly improve its image among the global Muslim community, Howard said. The religions of Kashmir are diverse, and include Muslims, Hindus, Sikhs and Buddhists.

The international community has a great deal at stake in Kashmir, Qazi said. The violence in the region cannot be isolated or contained in Southeast Asia because two neighboring nuclear powers are involved, he said.

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