India Lukewarm To Kashmir Proposal
26 October 2004
New Delhi: One day after Pakistan's president proposed a demilitarization of the violence-wracked Himalayan region of Kashmir, India's response was notably lukewarm, with an official making clear the proposal should not have been made first to reporters. Refusing to comment on the substance of the proposals, presented to journalists Monday by Pakistani President Gen. Pervez Musharraf, Indian External Affairs Ministry spokesman Navtej Sarna said they should have been raised through diplomatic channels. 'We do not believe that Jammu and Kashmir is a subject on which discussions can be held through the media,' Sarna said told reporters. 'It is one of the subjects in the composite dialogue process. So if there are any proposals, suggestions regarding that, that is the forum that we expect they will be brought to.' But despite his unenthusiastic response, he notably did not insist Kashmir is an 'integral' part of India, a diplomatic shorthand often used in India to dismiss peace overtures. On Monday, Musharraf said Pakistan and India 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. He said such options could only be implemented after the two countries withdraw their forces from Kashmir, where they are currently separated by a heavily militarized cease-fire line. But a withdrawal before a final solution is unlikely. Simply raising such ideas, though, was seen as a diplomatic advance. 'We have arrived at a stage where ... we have to consider options in a purposeful manner going toward a solution' over Kashmir, Musharraf said. Pakistan's opposition quickly rejected the formula, saying Tuesday they would never allow Musharraf to change the status of Kashmir against the wishes of its people. '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 Pakistani 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. He also said he did not think India would accept the 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. But in Srinagar, the main city in Jammu-Kashmir state, a prominent separatist leader said he saw signs of hope in the proposals, calling them 'a new approach toward finding an acceptable solution.' 'All of us will have to rise above traditional positions,' said Abdul Ghani Bhat, a leader of the moderate faction of the Kashmiri separatist alliance, the All Parties Hurriyat Conference. A former princely state, Kashmir has been the spark for two of the three wars that India and Pakistan have fought since the two nations were carved from British-ruled India in 1947. The largely Muslim Himalayan region has been divided between them for decades, though both claim it in its entirety. Despite years of enmity, they have made steps toward peace since January, when former Indian Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee attended a regional summit in Pakistan. Officials have held a series of confidence-building talks since then, and have agreed to such concrete steps as reopening bus, train and air corridors and creating a new nuclear hot line. Senior Pakistani and Indian officials are scheduled to hold another round of talks beginning next month. A 1948 U.N. resolution calls for the people of both Pakistan-held and Indian-held Kashmir to vote on whether a united Kashmir should join predominantly Hindu India or mostly Muslim Pakistan. The vote was never held because of India's objections. India accuses Pakistan of backing Islamic militants who have been fighting Indian forces since 1989. The insurgency has claimed more than 65,000 lives, most of them civilians.