Searing Dispute Over
Kashmir May Spark
India-Pakistan Nuclear War
By Chaitanya Kalbag

SRINAGAR, India (Reuters) - India and Pakistan could wage nuclear war over the disputed territory of Kashmir, the leader of the separatists in Indian-controlled Kashmir said. ``The situation is going from bad to worse...Kashmir is the root cause of the tension between India and Pakistan. If the problem is not solved both the countries could wage nuclear war,'' Syed Ali Shah Geelani said in an interview late on Thursday. Geelani is chairman of the All Parties Hurriyat (freedom) Conference, an umbrella grouping of 14 separatist parties. The bearded, 68-year-old Geelani, wearing a flowing white robe, spoke at his home in a suburb of Kashmir's summer capital Srinagar of the ``right path'' of secession from India. He called the Moslem militants who have waged a fierce eight-year revolt against Indian security forces in the Kashmir valley ``freedom fighters.'' ``Peaceful means have not worked. We do not call the militants' activities violence. It is violence by the Indian side. The militants are fighting for a just and noble cause.'' Indian and Pakistani troops have over the past week exchanged artillery fire across a ``line of control'' marking the point at which in 1948 they stopped fighting in their first war over Kashmir. During the interview, Geelani repeatedly referred to a United Nations Security Council 1948 resolution asking both countries to withdraw their troops and allow Kashmiris to decide in a plebiscite on whether to accede to Pakistan or India ``I assure you that the majority of the Kashmiris will accede to Pakistan,'' the separatist leader told Reuters. ``As far as U.N. resolutions are concerned there are only two options -- India or Pakistan. If the resolutions are implemented, we will persuade those Kashmiris who want the third option, of independence, to choose Pakistan.''
He said Indian authorities' assertion that the back of the revolt in the Kashmir Valley had been broken was wrong. ``They are mistaken, because this movement is not based only on the militants. This is a mass movement.'' India had to agree that Kashmir was disputed territory, Geelani said. ``India's stand on Kashmir is extremely unrealistic, rigid and influenced by the arrogance of power, expansionism and imperialism.'' Asked if the average Kashmiri really cared about which sovereignty he belonged to after a half-century under either Indian or Pakistani control, Geelani said: ``These questions are being put only to create confusion and diversion. ``If we are given the chance to decide our future, at that moment we will decide.'' Asked why Geelani's own Jamaat-e-Islami party had not fought on the platform of a plebiscite in the state's September 1996 election that ended si x years of direct federal rule, he replied: ``This was not an election. This was a military operation. If you wanted to see who is the real representative of the people the election should have been conducted under the auspices of the United Nations. ``We have had 50 years' experience of Indian elections. We would never say there will be a free and fair election under Indian administration. The question does not arise.'' Geelani said the Hurriyat Conference was not allowed to hold public meetings. His passport was seized in 1981 and he had been imprisoned for 10 years at various points since 1962. India has deployed about 300,000 army and paramilitary troops in Jammu and Kashmir. ``There are only two ways -- either we surrender before the might of India, or we continue this movement until we achieve our goal or perish. We will not surrender. We will go on until our last breath, until our last drop of blood.''
Indian authorities have begun to arm mainly Hindu Village Defence Committees in the state's Jammu region, where militants have recently stepped up a series of killings of Hindus. ``The Moslems are feeling insecure in these areas, so we have demanded that no civilians must be armed,'' Geelani said. But asked whether the exodus of about 200,000 Hindus from the predominantly Moslem Kashmir Valley amounted to some sort of ethnic cleansing, he said the militants had targeted Moslems as much as Hindus. ``The people of the valley will welcome the Hindus if they come back. There is no communal tension here. But at this moment, the government is not taking any interest in bringing them back.''