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Asia

How India's Muslims view the Kashmir dispute

Jammu and Kashmir, India's only Muslim-majority state, has drawn media focus in recent months due to the volatile situation there. Muslim intellectuals say greater autonomy should be given to resolve the imbroglio.

Against the backdrop of massive anti-government protests in India-administered Kashmir in recent months, Muslim academics and writers from other parts of the country argue that greater autonomy should be given to the territory.

The unrest was sparked by the killing of a local separatist leader by security forces in July. The ensuing mass public demonstrations and the government's brutal crackdown have claimed over 80 lives and left thousands injured.

While Pakistan condemned the Indian government's actions, New Delhi accused Islamabad of inciting anti-India sentiment and protests in India-administered Kashmir.

Tensions between the two sides have been running high, particularly after India's recent announcement that it had conducted "surgical strikes" against militant camps on the Pakistani side of the de facto border. It followed a militant attack on an army base, killing several Indian soldiers. Islamabad denied such attack had occurred and reiterated its commitment to continue to fight for the region's freedom.

In recent days, there have been regular exchanges of fire by Indian and Pakistani troops across the Line of Control and their border in the region, violating a 2003 ceasefire.

Is autonomy the answer?

Amid the angry rhetoric emanating from both sides, Muslims in the rest of India DW spoke to say Kashmir's secession from the country is not a way out. They argue, however, that more autonomy should be given to the 12.5 million people living in the state.

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"Another partition of the state is not the solution. To undo the state's partition between both India and Pakistan that happened in 1947, one needs to think out of the box and believe in options like softer borders and greater autonomy for the people in the state," says Jamal Kidwai, director of Aman Trust, an NGO that is active in the area of conflict reduction. "I think the Indian government should show greater statesmanship in this regard," added Kidwai.

Some believe that a politically viable solution has to be found to tackle the Kashmir dispute.

"Neither Kashmir's merger with Pakistan nor being held down by force by the Indian state will provide a lasting solution. I think greater autonomy for the citizenry is the way forward," says Zafar Agha, a member of the National Commission for Minority Educational Institutions.

"How long can Kashmiris live under the shadow of the gun? They have seen death and destruction for over 25 years. I think it is high time the government thinks of viable options. Greater autonomy is certainly an alternative," says Faraz Ahmad, a senior journalist.

In 2007, a solution to the Kashmir dispute seemed to be within the grasp of both India and Pakistan, but it fell through in the end.

At the time, the then Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf suggested Islamabad was willing to give up its claim to Kashmir if India agreed to a self-government plan for the disputed Himalayan region.

He proposed open borders on either side of the Line of Control and autonomous status (not independence) to Jammu and Kashmir, along with Pakistan-administered Kashmir, with powers over all areas like trade, tourism and water management. The proposal also included phased withdrawal of both countries' troops from the region. 

All this was documented in former Pakistani Foreign Minister Khurshid Mahmud Kasuri's book, "Neither a Hawk nor a Dove," that was released last year.

Kasuri points out that very few people were privy to this formula and gives credit to the statesmanship of former Indian Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee and his close confidant Brajesh Mishra, who happened to be the national security advisor during those years.

Mutual distrust

"This violence is mindless and we cannot have Kashmiris bearing the brunt of violence for so many years. The government says Kashmir is an integral part of India, but we have to think of ways to give them autonomy," said Mohammed Azharuddin, a former cricket captain.

Writing in the Milli Gazette, a leading Muslim newspaper, blogger Firdaus Ahmed argues that Kashmiris as an Indian Muslim community differ in many respects from other Muslim communities across India.

"They are territorially compact and constitute a majority in their state. They are also at odds with the Indian state and have been for close to a quarter century subject to its military attention," said Ahmed.

Many people in the Indian-controlled portion of Kashmir are believed to favor independence or a merger with Pakistan. A militant uprising and subsequent Indian crackdown since 1989 have killed more than 68,000 people.

India and Pakistan have not been able to come up with a just solution to the Kashmir problem over the last 69 years. Mutual mistrust and deep suspicion continues to loom large over the relations between the two nuclear-armed neighbors. Since they became independent in 1947, both countries have fought two of their three wars with each other over the territory. 

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