Pakistan Opposition Rejects Kashmir Plan
26 October 2004
Islamabad: Pakistan's opposition rejected a formula proposed by the country's president for solving the lingering issue of Kashmir, saying on Tuesday they will never allow him to change the status of Kashmir against the wishes of its people. However, a prominent separatist leader in India's portion of the Himalayan region said he welcomed the development. The Pakistani opposition's reaction came a day after President Gen. Pervez Musharraf told journalists in Islamabad that Pakistan and India must consider changing their positions on Kashmir to settle a decades-old dispute over the Himalayan region. Both nations claim the Himalayan region in its entirety. 'We have arrived at a stage where ... we have to consider options in a purposeful manner going toward a solution' over Kashmir, Musharraf said Monday. He said New Delhi and Islamabad should consider making some areas of Kashmir independent, placing them under joint Indian- Pakistani control, or putting them under the administration of the United Nations. Musharraf conditioned his comments on a demilitarization of the region, where both countries have hundreds of thousands of troops. Such a standdown before a final solution is considered unlikely. Musharraf's remarks drew criticism in Pakistan from opposition groups, who accused him of offering too much. 'I don't think Musharraf's proposal is in the interest of Pakistan and the Kashmiris,' said Raja Zafarul Haq, a senior leader of the Alliance for the Restoration of Democracy, a 15-party opposition coalition. 'Such formulas are an insult to the sacrifices of Kashmiris,' said Haq, who is also chairman of the Pakistan Muslim League-N party, whose government was ousted by Musharraf in a bloodless coup in 1999. Haq said he did not think India would accept the new terms. 'India has long said that Kashmir is an integral part of their country, and I don't think they are going to change their stance,' he said. There was no immediate reaction from New Delhi. In Indian's part of Kashmir, Abdul Ghani Bhat, a prominent separatist leader, welcomed Musharraf's proposals. 'All of us will have to rise above traditional positions. These proposals will have to address the sensibilities of all three parties and they need to be looked into fairly, intelligently and imaginatively,' he told The Associated Press in Srinagar, Jammu-Kashmir state's summer capital. Kashmir, a former princely state, has been the flashpoint of two wars between India and Pakistan since it was divided following the partition of the subcontinent by Britain at independence in 1947. Pakistan and India in recent months have held a series of confidence- building talks on less contentious issues, but they have not yet started negotiations on Kashmir. Senior Pakistani and Indian officials are scheduled to hold another round of talks later this year. India accuses Pakistan of backing Islamic militants who have been fighting Indian forces since 1989. The insurgency has claimed more than 65,000 lives.