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Kashmiris wary of proposed talks that exclude them

India's outreach to Pakistan on their No. 1 contentious issue brings mixed reaction.

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India's offer of peace talks to Pakistan may be its boldest step in decades to solve the 53-year dispute over the political aspirations of Kashmir, India's only Muslim-dominated state.

Reaction is ranging from the skepticism of militant groups and many Kashmiris, to cautious support from Kashmiri opposition groups and Pakistan's leadership, to applause from the United States and other nations.

"This is the first step. This would be the first serious set of talks, I would argue, since 1963," says Sumit Ganguly, a professor at the Center for Asia Studies at the University of Texas at Austin. "Now, there will be some call for reciprocal agreement. India will press for Pakistan's cutting off of support to insurgents. Pakistan will demand a thinning of Indian forces in Kashmir. Let's see if that happens."

Two years after India and Pakistan fought a mountain war in Kargil over the troubled territory claimed by both nations, the offer comes at the conclusion of India's unusually bloody six-month-long unilateral cease-fire - in which militant activity and killings by Indian security forces actually increased to their highest pace in the 12-year insurgency. The Indian government simultaneously announced an end to the cease-fire and plans to step up operations against militant groups, giving security forces greater latitude to respond to perceived militant threats.

Where talks lead depends on the seriousness of both sides. But movement toward bilateral talks will dramatically affect the political framework and the mood of the Kashmiris. Talks could sideline, and perhaps weaken, Kashmir's political leadership, both within the government and the fractious opposition.

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