RAWALPINDI: Pakistan and India must focus on resolving their dispute over Kashmir by capitalising on newly-built trust or risk a new wave of militancy in the divided region, one of Kashmir's most influential leaders said on Wednesday.
Foreign ministers of the two rival countries sounded positive after talks in New Delhi last month, hailing a "new era" of friendlier and more stable ties and vowing to fight militancy and boost trade and travel.
Yasin Malik, head of the Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF), said Kashmiris welcomed the resumption of the peace process between Pakistan and India, stalled since the 2008 Mumbai attacks, but said it must deliver a settlement.
"Now is the right time to focus on the solution," Malik told Reuters. "There should a timeframe for the process and it should not be a waste of time, as happened in the past."
Nearly 50,000 people have been killed in Indian Kashmir since the start of an insurgency in the late 1980s.
Militant violence has fallen to its lowest levels since that time, but the region is still seething with anti-Indian sentiment. Last summer more than 100 people were killed in large demonstrations for independence, mostly by police bullets.
Malik warned that peaceful protests could turn violent if Pakistan and India failed to resolved the Kashmir dispute.
"There is a big risk factor (if the talks fail). You may be pushing these boys again to the violent path."
Malik was one of the pioneers of the militant struggle in Kashmir. In 1988, he walked through the mountains to the Pakistani side of Kashmir, got training and returned to fight the Indian army.
He gave up militancy in 1994 to agitate peacefully for self-rule, but still bears the scars of his militant life – most notably from jumping from a fifth-floor window to escape capture by Indian security forces in 1990.
His injuries left him deaf in one ear and the left side of his face paralysed. He speaks haltingly.
Malik said many Kashmiris and many of his own friends had resented his decision to renounce violence. But he said this year's revolutions in Egypt and Tunisia proved that freedom could be won through peaceful means.
"There is no support for militant movements in the world right now. You have to keep your (political) movement alive, and this is what we are trying to do."
Nonetheless, he said Pakistan and India should involve militant groups as well as the Kashmiri leadership in the peace process.
"This is not a border dispute that the two countries decide. It is the question of the future of a civilised and educated nation. They (Kashmiris) are not animals who listen to decisions about their fate on television and radio."