'No militarisation in Kashmir'
3 June 2007
Shimla: External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee on Sunday dismissed Pakistan's charge that India had heavily militarised Jammu and Kashmir. Security forces in the State were trying to restore normality, he said. Addressing a two-day conference titled 'Towards South Asian unity,' organised by the South Asian Free Media Association (SAFMA), he said: 'I don't agree with suggestions that there is militarisation in Kashmir. Security forces and law- enforcing agencies are maintaining law and order in the State.' Mr. Mukherjee said the committee set up by the Centre in April to consider the demand for reduction of troops in the State was doing its job. Pakistan had been claiming that India had posted some 7 lakh troops in Jammu and Kashmir and insisting that their strength be reduced. Asked if India and Pakistan were close to finding a solution to the Kashmir issue, he said they were discussing outstanding issues within the framework of the composite dialogue process. Three rounds of talks had already been concluded and the fourth was now in progress. 'I do hope that we will be able to resolve' the issue, he said. Addressing a gathering of parliamentarians from eight SAARC (South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation) countries here, Mr. Mukherjee said that 'as the largest country in the region, India is ready to accept asymmetrical responsibilities, including opening up markets to South Asian neighbours, without insisting on reciprocity.' He said South Asia was on the threshold of a historical moment and 'collectively we stand a good chance of transforming the economic conditions of our people and in the development of human civilisation in the 21st century.' India favoured dismantling of barriers among SAARC countries on movement of goods and investments. India was aware that it had an important responsibility as the present chair of SAARC, Mr. Mukherjee said and noted that during the 14th SAARC summit in New Delhi, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh announced duty- free access to India's markets to Least Developed Countries in SAARC from this year itself. Viewing the SAARC process as a stimulus to strengthen cross-border economic linkages, he said India would carry forward the theme of connectivity to implement concrete projects and upgrade regional cooperation and integration. India would focus on improving regional connectivity through upgrading trade, transport and telecommunication links, and addressing issues relating to trade facilitation. He denied that the India-United States deal for civilian nuclear energy cooperation had hit a roadblock even as he acknowledged that no timeframe could be set for the implementation of the pact. Mr. Mukherjee said the two countries were committed to the July 18, 2005 joint statement issued by U.S. President George Bush and Dr. Singh for cooperation in the civilian nuclear energy field and the March 2006 separation plan agreed upon between the two leaders.