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Pakistan Moves to Improve Relations with India - 2003-10-27


Pakistan says it will respond positively to a set of new proposals by India, aimed at improving relations between the two nuclear-capable rival nations.

Pakistan Foreign Ministry spokesman Masood Khan says his country wants to engage India on all issues straining their relations. He told a weekly news conference Monday that internal consultations are still under way to prepare a comprehensive response to the peace initiatives proposed by India last week.

But Mr. Khan says Pakistan is disappointed that the Kashmir dispute, one of the most contentious issues, is not part of the Indian proposals.

"What we are trying to say here is that engage each other and don't shy away from the most important issues that have been the source of continuing tensions between the two countries," he said. "Attempts to start dialogue incrementally are not going to succeed. You have to have simultaneous movement on the whole cluster of issues in the quest for peace."

Kashmir is a Muslim-majority region and is at the heart of the enmity between India and Pakistan. The two countries have fought two wars over the region, which is divided into Indian and Pakistani portions.

Last week India announced a dozen proposals designed to help improve relations with Pakistan after May and June last year, when the two nearly went to war for a third time. The proposals include starting a new cross-border bus service between Indian and Pakistani Kashmir and the resumption of bilateral sports and air links.

Pakistani spokesman Masood Khan also criticized a statement by India's Defense Minister George Fernandes, in which he reportedly warned Pakistan to settle with India either on the negotiating table or the battlefield.

"What you are trying to say is negotiate at gunpoint," said Mr. Khan. "So this is really outrageous. I think this kind of war mongering should be avoided and warmongers should not be encouraged because this is dangerous and this is insane."

The Pakistani spokesman also criticized India's offer to talk to separatist groups in Indian-controlled parts of Kashmir. He says any discussions on Kashmir that do not include Pakistan will not succeed.

India has long accused Pakistan of sponsoring a separatist insurgency in Kashmir that has claimed thousands of lives. Officials in Pakistan deny the allegations.

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