| Face partially covered, a woman listens to Sonia Gandhi’s speech in Srinagar. (AFP)
New Delhi, Sept. 19: Behind the tough public posturing, the decks are being cleared for resumption of talks between India and Pakistan.
If the remaining three phases of the Jammu and Kashmir elections go off without much bloodshed, a bilateral dialogue could start sometime later this year.
The Indians have conveyed to the Pakistani side that if peaceful elections are allowed in Kashmir, Delhi may not be averse to moving towards the negotiating table soon. But with violence flaring up occasionally, India will make a formal commitment only after assessing whether the attacks are sporadic or organised by Islamabad.
The US has also begun emitting signals in public that it wants the two neighbours to talk soon. US ambassador to India Robert Blackwill indicated as much when he told reporters today that the first phase of elections was “very positive”.
He expressed the hope that successful conclusion of the four-phased elections would lead to resumption of dialogue within a “reasonable” time-frame.
For the time being, however, both countries have kept up the tempo of their tirade against each other. Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf has described the elections in Kashmir as “sham” while insisting that no solution could be found till a UN-mandated plebiscite was held to allow the Kashmiris to decide their fate. India, on the other hand, said infiltration along the Line of Control continued and attempts were being made by Pakistan-backed terrorists to scuttle the democratic process in the state.
Blackwill shared the Indian perception that infiltration across the LoC had gone up in the past few months.
The ambassador also contradicted Musharraf, saying that “it (the Kashmir elections) is not a sham. We think India is committed to holding free, fair and inclusive elections in Jammu and Kashmir without violence.”
The ambassador showered praise on voters in Kashmir and applauded them for the “extraordinary” turnout on the first day of the polls. Saying 48 per cent people cast votes despite threats from terrorists and violence in the state, Blackwill added: “This is remarkable. We hope it continues. If there is less violence, there will be more turnout.”
Blackwill felt that reports about rigging in the state were exaggerated. The US embassy had sent two diplomats to Srinagar for the first phase.