Jammu (Fides Service ) – Rays of hope brighten the tormented region of Kashmir, on the border between India and Pakistan, scene of fifty years of dispute between two powerful neighbours. President Pervez Musharraf of Pakistan has announced that talks on the disputed region between the two nations will resume in mid-February and that a calendar of meetings is being drafted. “We are happy that dialogue will be officially resumed. We have great hopes for a lasting solution to the question of Kashmir. Everyone here is talking about it and watching developments with a mixture of fear and hope. We are praying that the talks will have a positive outcome. We ask our national leaders to work for peace, wellbeing and prosperity of the people of Kashmir, tired and exhausted by violence and war” a local source told Fides
One difficult question to settle is the separatist claim by Muslim religious and political organisations demanding a “Jammu and Kashmir state ” independent from India. Representatives of the All Parties Hurriyat Conference are in favour of a meeting with India’s deputy prime minister Lal Krishna Advani, which will be the first contact between the parties.
Commenting the positive developments, Archbishop Lawrence Saldanha of Lahore recently told Fides, “India and Pakistan must unite efforts to fight endemic poverty afflicting the people of India and Pakistan. In Pakistan more than 35% of the population lives on less than a dollar a day; in India 30% of the people live under the poverty line”.
With the cease fire declared on 25 November 2003, people who fled violence in Kashmir hope soon to return home. These include hundreds of Catholic families who fled Kashmir in 1989-90, when terror took hold of the region and separatist violence spread. Kashmir has a population of 12 million, 70% Muslim and minority groups of Hindus, Sikhs and Buddhists. The Catholic community in Kashmir consists of about 12.000 Catholics, assisted by 41 priests, 160 Sisters and 20 catechists. Jammu-Srinagar diocese, the second largest in India, covers three regions: Kashmir, mainly Muslim, Ladakh mainly Buddhist and Jammu where Muslims and Hindus are in equal numbers.
(PA) (Fides Service 22/1/2004 lines 26 words 251)