By Zahid Rafiq
SRINAGAR, Indian held Kashmir (AA): Kashmiri pro-independence leaders met Sunday for the first time since anti-India unrest started in the disputed region four months ago.
Veteran leader of the Hurriyat (G) party Syed Ali Shah Geelani met with his counterparts Mirwaiz Umar, of the Hurriyat (M) faction, and the Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front chairman (JKLF) chairman Yasin Malik about the way forward after 120 days of shutdown protests in Indian-held Kashmir.
The government allowed the three leaders to meet after earlier stopping Umar and Malik’s attempts to visit Geelani at his home on Nov. 2.
“We need to see how to sustain this movement for a longer period of time and at the same time address the issues of the people,” Umar told Anadolu Agency. “That is what today’s meeting was about and we will expand on that in the next meeting.”
Umar said civil society leaders would be invited to participate in a larger meeting planned for Nov. 8.
“We want to bring in the people who have been the back bone of this phase of our freedom movement; the transporters, the traders, the employees’ union and many others. We want to hear them and discuss with them and exchange ideas and opinions,” Umar said.
While Geelani has been under continuous house arrest since before the current unrest began, Malik and Umar were both put in separate prisons and released only last week.
According to sources in the police department, who spoke to Anadolu Agency on condition of anonymity, the government allowed the meeting today “with the hope that the three would discuss and relax the shutdown and prepare the ground to call it off.”
At least 90 civilians have been killed and over 10,000, according to numbers by the region’s health department, have been wounded in the crackdown by the Indian forces to quell the uprising.
The current popular uprising began on July 8, when tens of thousands of people came out to mourn a 21-year-old Kashmiri militant commander. Since then, Kashmir has been shutdown in protest for 121 days and the Indian government has responded by strict curfews and crackdown.
According to the details from the police, over 7,000 civilians, including human rights activists, have been arrested for participating in demonstrations.
Kashmir, a Muslim-majority Himalayan region, is held by India and Pakistan in parts and claimed by both in full.
The two countries have fought three wars – in 1948, 1965 and 1971 – since they were partitioned in 1947, two of which were fought over Kashmir.
Since 1989, Kashmiri resistance groups in IHK have been fighting against Indian rule for independence, or for unification with neighboring Pakistan.
More than 70,000 people have reportedly been killed in the conflict so far, most of them by the Indian Armed forces. India maintains more than half a million troops in the disputed region.
[Archive Photo: Indian soldiers confronting protesters in Indian held Kashmir. Photo by AA]