July 2004 News

Pakistan, India Renew Vow To Settle Kashmir Dispute

23 July 2004

Rawalpindi: Pakistan and India renewed vows on Friday to settle their dispute over Kashmir, the issue at the heart of decades of hostilities, and pledged to combat terrorism. After a 90-minute meeting with President Pervez Musharraf, Indian Foreign Minister Natwar Singh told reporters he was leaving Pakistan with renewed determination to push forward the fledgling peace process between the nuclear-armed rivals. 'Both sides reiterated the importance of continuing the dialogue process in an atmosphere free of violence, and tackling the scourge of terrorism with renewed vigour,' Singh said, before returning to India. 'India and Pakistan are committed to discuss and settle all bilateral issues including that of Jammu and Kashmir to the satisfaction of both sides.' It was the first time Musharraf had held direct talks with New Delhi since the Congress Party took power in May elections. Congress ousted the Hindu nationalist-led coalition of then prime minister Atal Behari Vajpayee, who with Musharraf formally launched the peace process in January. India and Pakistan went to the brink of a fourth war in 2002 after Pakistani- based militants attacked India's parliament, but an olive branch extended by Vajpayee and intense U.S. diplomacy helped avert a conflict. While no breakthrough had been expected on Friday, Singh's words appeared intended to soothe Pakistani concerns that the process had stalled since his party came to power. Doubts have lingered in Islamabad over whether India wants to negotiate a Kashmir settlement, believing New Delhi to be happy to accept the Line of Control dividing the region as a permanent border, a proposal Pakistan rejects. MORE TALKS Over the next month both sides are to hold a series of talks that will cover disputes ranging from water sharing to a Himalayan battlefield called the Siachen Glacier. Singh will then meet Pakistani counterpart Khursheed Mehmood Kasuri in New Delhi in early September to review progress. The two countries have already agreed to a series of confidence-building measures including a ceasefire between troops on the frontier in Kashmir, restoring transport links, bolstering diplomatic missions and holding a hugely popular cricket series. But progress on Kashmir has been less spectacular. 'While progress in some areas can and perhaps will be rapid ... in certain other areas, notably Kashmir, it is still not set for any tangible results in the near future,' said former Pakistani foreign secretary Tanvir Ahmed Khan. 'So far from the Indian side we haven't seen concrete evidence of any great flexibility on the Kashmir issue,' he said, adding that the construction of a fence by India along the Line of Control had bred mistrust among Pakistani Kashmiris. Musharraf had said on Thursday that progress on Kashmir was a prerequisite for success in other areas, a position which analysts fear could end the peace process before it really begins. On Friday, however, his comments were less categorical. Musharraf said in a statement after meeting Singh that 'simultaneous' progress was needed on Kashmir and other issues. 'It is important to address this issue with sincerity with a view to reaching a final settlement that accords fully with the legitimate aspirations of the Kashmiris within a 'reasonable' time frame,' he said, not specifying what time frame he meant. New Delhi blames violence in Indian Kashmir on Pakistani militants crossing the heavily militarised Line of Control. Islamabad denies the charge, and calls the rebellion a 'legitimate freedom struggle' against Indian rule. Tens of thousands of people have been killed in Indian Kashmir, its only Muslim-majority state, since an insurgency erupted in 1989. In the latest violence, soldiers shot dead five members of a Pakistan-based militant group in an overnight gunbattle in the village of Takipora, 140 km (88 miles) northwest of the main city, Srinagar.


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