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Pakistan Accepts Indian Proposals to Improve Relations, Seeks Kashmir Talks - 2003-10-29

Pakistan has agreed to a series of Indian proposals for improving relations between the two rival nations, but has reiterated that a lasting peace between the two countries can only be possible if New Delhi accepts an offer of talks to settle the dispute over Kashmir.

Pakistan Foreign Secretary Riaz Khokhar told a news conference that his country has accepted most of India's proposals in hopes that it will lead to talks to settle the issue of Kashmir.

"We have carefully studied the Indian proposals and have decided to respond positively to the latest Indian proposals in the hope that the latest reciprocal steps taken by both countries would lead to the resumption of a meaningful dialogue," said Mr. Khokhar.

Mr. Khokar described Kashmir as the "cancer" and poison between India and Pakistan. The disputed territory has caused two wars and remains a major source of military tensions between the two nuclear-capable nations.

"We genuinely believe that 55 years have been wasted and we have had enough conflict and confrontation," he said. "The time has come for the two countries to get down to serious negotiations on substantive issues."

Foreign Secretary Khokhar said Pakistan has also agreed in principle to India's offer of starting a new bus service between the capital cities of Pakistan and Indian portions of Kashmir, Muzaffarabad and Srinagar. But he insisted on U.N. monitoring of checkpoints along the disputed border.

"We are of the considered view that the checkpoints, wherever they are established along the line of control, must be manned, controlled by the United Nations and the people on the two sides can move with U.N. documents," said Mr. Khokhar.

Mr. Khokhar repeated that Pakistan is disappointed with India's refusal to open peace talks on the Kashmir dispute. India maintains that such a dialogue will be possible once Pakistan stops supporting a separatist Muslim insurgency in Indian Kashmir. Secretary Khokhar says Pakistan has taken all possible steps to address that issue.

"The measures that Pakistan has taken over the months, in our judgment, are more than adequate," he said. "There is no way, there is just no way, any country can seal its borders 100 percent. It is impossible. As far as Pakistan is concerned it has done its utmost. ... The ball is in India's court."

Mr. Khohkar said Pakistan has also accepted India's proposal to establish a hotline between coast guards and maritime agencies of the two countries to help prevent fishermen from straying into each others' waters.

In addition, Pakistan says it has decided to allow students from Indian Kashmir to study at Pakistan universities. Pakistani doctors also will be allowed to treat disabled Kashmiris, widows, and rape victims.