Top separatist leader wants India, Pakistan to pull backs troops from Kashmir

Kashmir's top Islamic cleric and separatist leader has said that longtime rivals India and Pakistan should demilitarize the disputed Himalayan region under NATO supervision. After pulling out troops, the All Parties Hurriyat Conference, a conglomerate of separatist political and religious groups, could ask Islamic rebels to stop fighting and strengthen the peace process, said Mirwaiz Umar Farooq in an article published in Tuesday's edition of Greater Kashmir, a local English daily.

India already has rejected a similar demand for demilitarization put forward by Pakistan during a meeting of the prime ministers of the two countries earlier this month in the Bangladesh capital on the sidelines of a regional summit.

India said attacks by suspected insurgent groups were continuing on government forces and the civilian population in the Indian portion of Kashmir.

However, Farooq said NATO could help bitter rivals India and Pakistan.

"We appeal to NATO, which is already present in one part of Kashmir, that it should oversee the demilitarization on both sides of the Line of Control," Farooq wrote. At present, NATO has been helping in relief efforts in the Pakistani portion of Kashmir devastated by the Oct. 8 earthquake.

India and Pakistan have fought two wars over its control since they won independence from Britain in 1947.

More than a dozen Islamic separatist groups have been fighting for Kashmir's independence from India or its merger with Pakistan since 1989. More than 66,000 people have been killed in the conflict.

The quake has killed more than 87,000 people in Pakistan and left some 3.5 million homeless. Farooq claimed in his article that nearly 1 million Indian soldiers were deployed in the Indian portion of Kashmir. However, Indian army officers say on condition of anonymity that there are fewer than 500,000 soldiers there, reports the AP. I.L.

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