- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 30, 2002

Abdul Gani Lone was the peaceful face of the Kashmiri freedom movement. For his efforts, he was shot repeatedly last week by two unidentified men in Indian-controlled Srinigar, and died reciting Koranic verses. At a time when India and Pakistan are being ripped apart by cross-border terrorism and violence, a buildup of almost one million troops along the Indian-Pakistan border and disputes over nuclear arms and the Kashmir region, Mr. Lone had been a voice of hope for Kashmiris as well as for moderate Pakistanis and Indians. He called for militants in Kashmir to stop violence, for diverse religious groups to unite regardless of political objectives and for the international community to not forget about the plight of his people. Two wars have been fought over the region claimed by both India and Pakistan, and yet the Kashmiris would like to shape their own destiny. He asked India and Pakistan to let that happen, and he died in the process.

Shortly before he was killed, Mr. Lone met on May 2 with editors and reporters of The Washington Times. He wanted to remind the international community of the urgency of the Kashmiri conflict. "Allow us to go to Pakistan and let us tell our boys" to give up their guns, Mr. Lone said was his plea to the Indian government. Yet he would not make it to Pakistan-controlled Kashmir. He was killed on May 21, just one day after calling again for a stop to the violence in Kashmir at a meeting with journalists, scholars and members of the All Parties Hurriyet Conference, the multiparty Kashmiri separatist alliance which he led.

Secretary of State Colin Powell called the assassination "a direct attack on hopes for a fair political process in Kashmir," and Washington is calling on both India and Pakistan to stand down. Pakistani President Gen. Pervez Musharraf highlighted the "martyrdom" in his address to the nation on May 27. Indian Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee, who was in the Kashmir this week, said Mr. Lone was killed because he was working for peace.

Yet while hailing Mr. Lone as a peacemaker, India and Pakistan have turned to non-peaceful means to solve their disputes. Each has blamed the other for his death, and the day after Mr. Lone was killed, Mr. Vajpayee told his troops stationed on the Pakistani border that the time had come for a successful fight. On May 25, Pakistan began to test the medium-range surface-to-surface Ghauri missile and continued tests through May 28. India has responded by shelling Pakistan and Pakistani-controlled Kashmir. Yet despite all the killing, there was at least one quiet place in Kashmir on May 23, when 100,000 Kashmiris gathered for the funeral for Mr. Lone in Srinagar.

"We will continue to try to convince the local population that militancy accomplishes nothing," Mr. Lone said at the end of his meeting with The Times. He did all he could. Now it is up to India, Pakistan and the grieving people of Kashmir to do the same.

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