The United States is hailing the conduct of the legislative elections in Indian Kashmir and urging that they be followed by a resumption of direct dialogue between India and Pakistan on the Kashmir issue.
The Kashmir elections, held in stages over a three-week period, were boycotted by Muslim militants and marred by violence that killed scores of people. But U.S. officials say they were, nonetheless transparent and open. And they express hope the voting will be the first step in a broad process that brings peace to the region.
At a briefing here, State Department spokesman Richard Boucher paid tribute to voters in the Muslim-majority region, who he said chose to participate in the polling despite violence and intimidation, and had shown that they want to pursue the path of peace.
He said the United States hopes the next step is a resumption of a political dialogue between India and Pakistan to try to resolve the long-running Kashmir dispute, which brought the two regional powers close to open hostilities twice within the past year alone.
"Following the completion of credible elections in Jammu and Kashmir, we call on both India and Pakistan to make a strenuous effort towards an early resumption of diplomatic dialogue on all outstanding issues including Kashmir," Mr. Boucher said. " A lasting settlement which also reflects the needs of the Kashmiri people can only be achieved through dialogue."
Mr. Boucher also praised Indian election authorities and Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, whose personal commitment to the Kashmir voting, he said, helped take the process forward.
He said the United States "unreservedly" condemned the terrorist attacks he said were aimed at disrupting a democratic process and intimidating voters, and welcomed Indian assurances that reports of election irregularities, including incidents of alleged coercion by security forces, will be fully investigated.
Officials here said they hoped the completion of the elections in Indian Kashmir, and this week's parliamentary elections in Pakistan, will open the way to new opportunities for Indian-Pakistani dialogue, which has all but ceased since a terrorist attack on India's parliament last December that India blamed on Pakistan-based Muslim militants.
The Bush administration has sent a succession of senior envoys, including Secretary of State Colin Powell and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, to the region in recent months to try to get the sides talking again but, more immediately, to scale-back the troop buildup along their border lingering since the last military crisis in May.