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Musharraf Ready to Drop Demand for Plebiscite in Kashmir - 2003-12-18


Pakistan's president, General Pervez Musharraf, says his country is willing to drop its long-standing demands for the implementation of United Nations resolutions in a bid to end the Kashmir dispute with neighboring India.

President Musharraf says both India and Pakistan will have to show flexibility on the their stated positions on Kashmir if they want to settle the issue. He told Reuters news agency in an exclusive interview that he is prepared to be bold and flexible over Kashmir in a bid for peace in the region.

"We are for the United Nations Security Council resolutions," said Pervez Musharraf. "However, now we have left that aside. Now where we have reached, we keep saying that if we want to resolve this issue - both sides need to talk to each other with flexibility, coming beyond stated positions, meeting halfway somewhere."

The divided region of Kashmir has caused two wars between India and Pakistan and came close to causing a third war last year. For more than five decades, Pakistan has insisted the Kashmir dispute must be resolved according to a U.N.-mandated resolution, which calls for a plebiscite to allow people in the mostly Muslim region to decided between joining India and Pakistan.

Tensions between the two nuclear-capable neighbors have eased this year and both have agreed to cease-fire last month along the disputed Kashmir border. President Musharraf says India should seize the opportunity and start a dialogue to settle the Kashmir issue.

"If the political dialogue doesn't come about, who wins and who loses? It is the moderates who lose and the extremists who gain and that is exactly what has been happening over the years here," he said.

India has taken tentative steps to improve relations with Pakistan but has maintained that bilateral talks on Kashmir will not start until Pakistan stops Islamic militants from crossing into Indian parts of the divided region, where New Delhi is fighting a separatist Muslim insurgency.

Indian Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee is planning to visit Islamabad early next month to attend a regional summit. President Musharraf says that Mr. Vajpayee should not miss the chance to discuss Kashmir on the sideline of the summit of seven South Asian nations.

"We have come to a stage where there is a thaw in relations," he emphasized. "The people of India and the people of Pakistan, they want a resolution of disputes, including Kashmir. Now if the leadership does not rise to the occasion, it will be pity [and] I think we will disappoint our public again."

A former foreign secretary of Pakistan, Niaz A. Naik, says President Musharraf's latest proposal on Kashmir has opened a new window of opportunity to address the issue that has strained relations between India and Pakistan for too long.

"He has shown his flexibility on the part of Pakistan in order to proceed further with a resolution of the Kashmir dispute on the basis of compromise, give and take, which is acceptable to India, to Pakistan and to the Kashmiri people," he said.

Observers maintain tensions between India and Pakistan have blocked efforts to eradicate poverty and improve economic conditions in South Asia. They say it is time the two countries come to the negotiating table to resolve their differences.

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