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Musharraf Repeats Call to End Kashmir Dispute - 2003-08-11

Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf has repeated a call for a peaceful settlement of his country's decades-old dispute with India over the region of Kashmir. The Pakistani leader also welcomed similar comments from across the border.

Addressing a gathering of foreign diplomats in the Pakistani capital on Monday, President Musharraf said his country is committed to resolving all disputes with India through negotiations.

"We desire peace. We are against conflict. Conflict is unthinkable in the conventional sense even," he said. "It will be disastrous for the region, for the two countries [India and Pakistan]. Pakistan will do its utmost to follow a track of peace, a track of negotiated settlements through dialogue on the issue of Indo-Pakistan disputes."

President Musharraf's remarks came a day after Indian Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee, in a message read out to a gathering of Pakistani and Indian lawmakers and journalists, said that violence and bloodshed between the two countries must end.

In his speech Monday, the Pakistani leader welcomed the presence of the Indian delegations at that gathering, which is aimed at fostering understanding between the two nations.

He reiterated that the dispute over Kashmir will be a major part of any discussions with India. The region remains at the center of military tensions between the rival nations, which came close to a third war over Kashmir last year.

But tensions have subsided, since the Indian prime minister offered a hand of friendship to Pakistan in April.

Since then the two countries have taken a series of confidence-building steps, aimed at paving the way for official peace talks. They have restored full diplomatic relations and resumed cross-border bus service.

There is still no word on when talks on Kashmir might begin. Pakistani Foreign Ministry Spokesman Masood Khan reiterated at a weekly news conference that his country is ready for such a dialogue.

"We must have dialogue, and we must do so quickly," he said. "We shouldn't wait for another year or so, because the pace as regards initiation of efforts to resume dialogue has been very slow. That needs to be quickened."

India and Pakistan both claim the entire region of Kashmir. New Delhi has charged that Pakistan is sponsoring a Muslim insurgency in the Indian part of Kashmir, which has hindered talks in the past. Pakistan says the charge is baseless.