SRINAGAR (Reuters) – The leader of disputed Kashmir’s largest separatist group said it was ready for talks with India’s government on Monday, after the state governor said he was optimistic about dialogue.
The Muslim-majority Kashmir valley is at the heart of more than seven decades of hostility between nuclear arch-rivals India and Pakistan. Both claim it in full but rule it in part.
Rhetoric from both sides, as well as Kashmiri separatists, some of whom want to join Pakistan, has been highly charged since a February suicide car bomb attack by a Pakistan-based militant group killed more than 40 Indian police in the part of the region it controls.
Any talks to resolve the conflict would be hugely difficult.
But on Saturday, Satya Pal Malik, the governor of Jammu and Kashmir where Indian-controlled Kashmir lies, told a news conference he had seen a softening in approach from separatist leaders, including the influential Hurriyat Conference.
“I feel happy that the temperature in the valley has gone down as compared to what it was during my arrival in Kashmir,” he told a news conference.
Malik has governed the state since August 2018, shortly after India’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) withdrew from a coalition with a local party, imposing direct rule from New Delhi.
“Today Hurriyat, who once closed their doors… are ready for the talks with the Government of India,” Malik added.
In response, Mirwaiz Umar Farooq, the chairman of Hurriyat, a political movement that wants independence from India, told Reuters on Monday he would welcome talks.
“Hurriyat Conference has always been in favour of talks as the means of resolution,” he said.
“Kashmiris, being the most affected party for the past 72 years, naturally want its resolution.”
Kashmir, whose fate was left unresolved during partition in 1947, is a key focus for the BJP government led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, that won a second term in power with an increased majority in May.
It launched a huge crackdown on separatists and militants operating in the region after the February attack, with gun battles between security forces and armed militants becoming an almost daily occurrence.
The BJP also wants to abolish special privileges for Jammu and Kashmir, India’s only Muslim majority state, to the fury of many Kashmiris.