Pakistan Urges Debate On Demilitarising Kashmir
25 October 2004
Islamabad: Pakistan's President Pervez Musharraf called on Monday for debate over the possibility of removing arms and troops from regions of Kashmir as part of efforts to resolve more than 50 years of dispute with India. Musharraf called on Pakistani journalists to debate options for resolving the dispute, which has caused two of the three wars between the nuclear rivals. 'I will just leave food for thought for you. Take the whole of Kashmir. There are seven regions. Two of these regions are in Pakistan, five are in India,' Musharraf said in remarks broadcast on state-owned Pakistan television. 'In my view, identify the region, whether this is whole seven or part, identify the region, demilitarise the region, troops out, and change its status.' Pakistani military officials say Islamabad has about 50,000 and New Delhi more than 600,000 troops in the state of Jammu and Kashmir, which has been divided between India and Pakistan since a war that followed independence from Britain in 1947. Musharraf first spoke about the demilitarisation option in an interview with India's Asian Age newspaper published this month. He elaborated on Monday, saying it could be acceptable to both Pakistan and India and also to the Kashmiris. 'In my view if there is a way found in this, each country (Pakistan and India) will be able to say we have not given up, or even if we have given up, the other has given up too. Kashmiris, too, in my opinion would be okay ...,' he said. In the past Pakistan and India have stuck to their respective positions with little sign of flexibility. New Delhi blames Pakistan for abetting the revolt in Kashmir, in which more than 40,000 people have been killed since 1979. New Delhi controls the heart of Kashmir, the mainly Muslim Srinagar Valley, and considers all of the state an integral part of India. Pakistan has always wanted a referendum to allow Kashmiris to choose which country to join. JOINT CONTROL? Musharraf said the nature of the status could be discussed later and that could include 'independence', a 'condominium' in which there was joint control, some United Nations mandate, or consultations with legal experts for some other kind of status. 'I have never spoken like this to anyone. I would request you to debate on these lines,' Musharraf said. Last year, Musharraf told Reuters he could set aside Pakistan's demand for a referendum and meet India half-way. The two countries have already maintained a ceasefire along the jagged ceasefire line that cuts through the Himalayan territory since November 2003, and have gradually mended relations since coming close to war in 2002. The two countries are engaged in a formal dialogue process since January aimed at resolving all their disputes including Kashmir. The next round of talks between experts and officials is due to take place in December. Pakistan's Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz is also expected to visit India in late November to meet his counterpart Manmohan Singh as part of a regional tour that will take him to five other South Asian countries next month.