India says Kashmir separatists ready for talks

India says the leader of Kashmir’s largest separatist group is ready for talks with New Delhi to resolve the conflict over the Himalayan valley.

In response to an offer by a senior Indian official, Mirwaiz Umar Farooq, the chairman of Kashmir’s moderate faction of All Parties Hurriyat (Freedom) Conference (APHC), a political movement that wants independence from India, said on Monday he would welcome talks.

“Hurriyat Conference has always been in favor of talks as the means of resolution,” he said, adding, “Kashmiris, being the most affected party for the past 72 years, naturally want its resolution.”

Satya Pal Malik, the Indian installed ruler of Jammu and Kashmir, 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 on Saturday.

“Today Hurriyat, who once closed their doors… are ready for the talks with the Government of India,” Malik added.

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.

The Muslim-majority Kashmir region 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.

In recent years, southern Kashmir has seen intense fighting between Indian forces and armed Kashmiri fighters, who are demanding independence for the Himalayan region. Over 100 have been killed in Indian-administered Kashmir this year in clashes with soldiers.

India regularly accuses Pakistan of arming and training militants and allowing them across the restive frontier in an attempt to launch attacks. Pakistan strongly rejects the accusation.

Relations nosedived in February when over 40 Indian paramilitaries were killed in a bomb attack in Kashmir.

The Indian military conducted airstrikes inside Pakistan later in February against what was said to be a militant training camp belonging to the Pakistan-based Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM) militant group.

Pakistan retaliated and shot down an Indian fighter jet that it said had violated its airspace. It also captured an Indian pilot during that operation, but released him shortly in a “peace gesture.”

India has said Pakistan was to blame for the deaths of Indian troops in Kashmir, which is divided between the two nuclear-armed states but is claimed in its entirety by both sides. Islamabad has denied any role in the bloodshed.

Tensions have since been running high between the two neighbors which have fought four wars since their partition in 1947, three of them over Kashmir.