India made a dramatic U-turn in its Kashmir policy today, announcing that its deputy prime minister will hold talks with the Kashmiri separatists it has shunned and tried to discredit for 13 years.
The separatists welcomed the announcement and called an emergency meeting to decide their response.
No date was mentioned for the talks between Deputy Prime Minister Lal Krishna Advani and Maulvi Abbas Ansari, chairman of the All Parties Hurriyat Conference.
It would be the first high-level contact between secessionist leaders and the government to resolve the 13-year Kashmir insurgency, which has claimed 63,000 lives.
“We welcome this announcement,” Ansari said.
The government’s decision was made at a meeting of the Cabinet Committee on Security and announced by Home Secretary N. Gopalaswamy.
He said: “The government will meet Ansari in response to his statement of August 25 that they are interested in talks with the central government.
Advani is seen as a hard-liner and a proponent of tough action against the secessionist movement.
Hurriyat is a grouping of religious and political parties in Kashmir that has said it would speak only with an official with high enough rank to ensure any agreement is carried out.
The government has rejected any talks with Hurriyat, saying it had no way of knowing whether the group truly represented the will of the Kashmiri people.
The separatists have boycotted elections and refuse to accept India’s sovereignty over the part of Kashmir under New Delhi’s control.
The insurgency began in 1989, when about a dozen Islamic militant groups, based in Indian Kashmir and across the frontier in Pakistani territory, began fighting to wrest the province from Indian control.
India accuses Pakistan of funding, arming and training the militants. India and Pakistan have fought two wars over Kashmir since they became independent from Britain in 1947. Both countries claim all of the Himalayan province, which is divided between them by a 1972 cease-fire line.