U.S. group urges India to relax hold on Kashmir 'Sense of alienation with India' grips region


UNITED NATIONS -- India's seven-year military occupation of the Muslim Kashmir Valley should be relaxed as a first step toward ending a guerrilla war in the disputed territory and reducing tensions with Pakistan, a group of U.S. experts said last week.

The U.S. scholars and former diplomats who recently visited Kashmir -- the mountainous region that the Islamic Mughal emperors once called paradise on earth -- warned in their report that "a powerful sense of alienation with India" grips the region, and that the feeling is pervasive.

"From people you could call members of the Kashmir Valley establishment," said one expert, Howard B. Schaffer, "we kept hearing this phrase: 'We're not being treated like human beings.' "

Schaffer, director of studies at Georgetown University's Institute for the Study of Diplomacy and a former State Department official in charge of South Asian affairs, made his remarks at a news conference here.

The experts called on India to reduce its military presence, which is estimated at 500,000 to 700,000 army and paramilitary fighters. They also urged India to begin talking with dissident Kashmiris. Some of them have been waging a war for independence since late 1989, while others have joined unarmed political movements demanding greater autonomy within India.

Over the years, international human rights groups have reported torture, disappearances and the killing of dissidents or bystanders in shootouts staged by Indian troops.

The issue of Kashmir is resurfacing in part because India wants a permanent seat on the United Nations Security Council.

Pub Date: 10/12/97

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