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Pakistan Offers to Withdraw Troops from Kashmir - 2003-12-02


In the latest peace offer to India, Pakistan says it is willing to withdraw its troops from the disputed territory of Kashmir.

Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf says his country will withdraw the 50,000 troops it maintains in its portion of Kashmir if India agrees to follow suit.

Pakistani military spokesman Major General Shaukat Sultan Khan tells VOA that his side would also agree to partial withdrawals, such as demilitarizing the "line of control," or LOC, which separates the two sides.

"They want a complete pull-out, Pakistan is prepared for a complete pull-out," he said. "They want a pull-out from the LOC and put the troops into garrisons inside Kashmir, Pakistan is prepared to do that. It all depends on the Indian response."

Major General Sultan adds, however, that any agreement needs to maintain the current ratio of forces between the two sides.

India, which controls some two-thirds of the disputed mountain territory, has a much larger troop presence in Kashmir, outnumbering Pakistan by some 14 to one.

Pakistan's latest proposal follows its declaration last week of a unilateral ceasefire along the line of control, previously the site of frequent artillery duels.

India agreed to reciprocate, and the ceasefire was extended to include the entire boundary between the nuclear rivals, which have fought two wars over Kashmir.

Kashmir has been a source of tension since Pakistan and India won independence from Britain in 1947, with each claiming the entire territory for itself.

The issue almost led to war last year, when both sides began a massive troop build-up along the de-facto boundary.

Retired Pakistani Lieutenant General Talat Masood says his government's recent peace moves mark a long-overdue change in Kashmir policy.

"There has been … a paradigm shift in Pakistan's thinking," said General Masood. "What we have been saying in the past years, they have now come to realize that this should have been the policy…"

Pakistan's goodwill gestures follow similar openings by India earlier this year, and come amid strong international pressure on both sides to seek a diplomatic solution. Recent peace moves include an agreement reached Monday to reopen direct air links and an Indian proposal Tuesday to begin talks this month on restarting rail service between the two counties.

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