November 2004 News

India Could Consider Pakistan's Kashmir Proposals

13 November 2004

New Delhi: India could consider Pakistani suggestions for resolving the Kashmir dispute if they are made formally, Foreign Minister Natwar Singh said on Saturday after Delhi announced it was scaling back its forces in the region. Ideas on the future of the divided region floated informally last month by Pakistan's President Pervez Musharraf at an Iftar fast-breaking meal included demilitarising the state, independence, joint governance or some form of U.N. control. 'A proposal made at an Iftar or through the media really cannot be accepted as a formal proposal,' Singh told reporters on his way back from the Cairo funeral of Palestinian President Yasser Arafat. 'If such a formal proposal is made we will certainly look at it.' Singh said the success of peace talks between India and Pakistan hinged on implementation of Musharraf's pledge last January to curb rebel incursions into the Indian-controlled part of Kashmir. The two countries have fought two of their three wars over Kashmir. Singh's statement followed an unexpected offer by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on Thursday to reduce the number of Indian troops in Kashmir, currently at least 400,000. India has been trying to stamp out a Muslim separatist insurgency that erupted in 1989 and has killed tens of thousands of people in the part of Kashmir controlled by Delhi. Separatists say India has close to 800,000 troops in the region. INDIA PM TO VISIT KASHMIR The premier, citing a decline in separatist violence for the cuts, heads to Jammu and Kashmir next week, his first visit to India's only Muslim-majority state since he took office in May. Defence Minister Pranab Mukherjee told The Hindu newspaper the army was drafting a 'road map' on the troop cut in Kashmir. 'As per our assessment, infiltration has decreased. But it is not because of Pakistan. It is despite Pakistan,' he said. 'They have not been able to infiltrate in the same numbers as earlier due to our vigilance, proactive action and fencing.' Pakistan, which came close to fresh conflict war with India in 1999 and 2002, said the reduction would foster peace. Violence has waned in Kashmir since India and Pakistan launched a peace process, but shootings and bombings still occur regularly in the spectacular region of snow- capped mountains and lush green valleys. Police said suspected Muslim rebels beheaded a woman school teacher and a villager in separate incidents there on Saturday. Rebels have killed or maimed people in the past who they believe are helping Indian soldiers put down the 15- year revolt. No group claimed responsibility for the killings which came as militants fired at a security patrol elsewhere in Kashmir, seriously wounding a soldier. Some analysts said the troop cut was partly a response to human rights problems in Indian Kashmir, in particular the recent alleged rape of a woman and her 10-year-old daughter by an army major, which has caused anger across the region. The Defence Ministry has said the major has been suspended. India has long accused Pakistan of arming and training separatists. Islamabad says the conflict is an indigenous freedom struggle and accuses the Indian army of major human rights abuses in the region.


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