India Pitches Kashmir Autonomy For Pakistan Peace
25 November 2004
New Delhi: India said on Thursday it could consider giving a large amount of autonomy to the disputed region of Kashmir to help make peace with Pakistan, but said it was not willing to redraw its borders to settle half a century of enmity. Foreign Minister Natwar Singh said this position had been conveyed to Pakistani Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz, who ended a visit to New Delhi on Wednesday, in the hope of carrying forward the peace process. 'We have made it clear ... as far as regional autonomy is considered, sky is the limit,' Singh told a news conference referring to the Himalayan region. A solution based on autonomy to Kashmir would, however, require 'a grat deal of patience, hard work, goodwill and trust' between the two sides and would not happen overnight, he said. New Delhi has suggested greater autonomy for Kashmir in the past and it is not known if this would be acceptable to Islamabad, which has said it is open to new ways to resolve the dispute, analysts said. The Indian proposal came weeks after Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf proposed that the two countries demilitarise Kashmir, divide it on ethnic lines, change the status of the region either by giving it independence, or bring it under joint control or even U.N. control. New Delhi rejected the idea saying it could not redraw borders or divide the region on religious lines. Nuclear rivals India and Pakistan both claim Muslim- majority Kashmir in full and have gone to war two times over it since gaining freedom from British colonial rule in 1947. New Delhi blames Islamabad for a 15-year revolt in Indian-controlled Kashmir that has claimed nearly 45,000 lives. Singh said the Pakistani prime minster was told that the two countries could settle the Kashmir dispute only if they strengthened ties, increased trade and brought people on the two sides closer to prepare them to accept a compromise. But Pakistan was more interested in the end result and not in the process leading to it, the minister said. 'By saying that no, the outcome must be known before, is to my mind putting the cart before the horse,' Singh said. 'If trade increases, movement of people increases ... industry, business and farmers develop an economic stake, it automatically creates an environment in which economics may lead to a satisfactory political outcome.' Singh said a similar strategy had helped India and China forge strong ties and trade between the two Asian giants had surged, helping heal the wounds of a brutal war in 1962 and a decades-old border dispute. Pakistan, after some initial hesitation, was coming around to India's position, Singh said. 'I'm happy to inform you that from President Musharraf downwards they have all said that they are not unifocal ... (they) have agreed to talk on issues other than Jammu and Kashmir,' he said. Singh said rail ministers of the two sides held talks over resuming a train service between Pakistan's southern Sind province and the western Indian state of Rajasthan and this was expected to become operational in October next year.