Fazal Haque Qureshi, the senior-most Kashmiri separatist leader and an executive member of the moderate separatist Hurriyat Conference, has been shot in the head today by guerrillas and is in "very critical" condition. The shooting comes just two days after India's home minister announced the possibility of taking the "risky step" of withdrawing a "significant" number of Indian troops from the region. On multiple occassions, violence has derailed diplomatic efforts. Just over a year ago, a coordinated series of shootings in Mumbai resulted in the murder of 166 civilians; a number of analysts argued that attack was an effort by extremists seeking to stop any improvement in relations between India and Pakistan.
Demilitarization of the contested region has been one of the most consistent demands of the separatists. But it's not something to bank on, said Teresita Schaffer, the director of the South Asia Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, in an interview with FP:
The Indian government is going to be wary of troop withdrawals unless they see movement on the Pakistani side, and unless they also see a return to the previous low levels of infiltration...if you're wondering whether there's a serious commitment to accommodate Kashmiri desires in Kahmir on the part of the government of India, I would qualify that very heavily. I think they would very much like to reach a state of affairs where Kashmiris were willing to participate in elections, and became somewhat more content with being ruled by India. They are not prepared to make major changes in policy in the attempt."
The implications of today's shooting for the ongoing Indian-Kashmiri talks depend on the separatists' reaction, Shaffer concluded. Here's hoping that the negotiations proceed apace - it's a conflict with stakes as high as they come.
Photo: PRAKASH SINGH/AFP/Getty Images