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India, Pakistan Discuss Kashmir

Foreign ministers begin talks to resolve 57-year dispute. Raids by Islamic militants are at issue.

September 06, 2004|Paul Watson | Times Staff Writer

NEW DELHI — After eight months of slow progress toward lasting peace, foreign ministers from India and Pakistan met Sunday to search for solutions to their main dispute, the 57-year conflict over the divided territory of Kashmir.

Spokesmen for Indian Foreign Minister K. Natwar Singh and his Pakistani counterpart Mian Khursheed Mehmood Kasuri said talks on the first day of the two-day summit went well, but gave no details.

Pakistan has said it wants to keep the focus of the talks on Kashmir, and Foreign Ministry spokesman Masood Khan said Sunday's talks included India's allegations that militants cross into Indian-controlled parts of Kashmir from Pakistan to launch attacks.

Fighting in the region has claimed tens of thousands of lives since 1989 as insurgents seek to merge the Indian-held part of Kashmir with Pakistan or win its independence.

One of the most significant sticking points is a proposed bus service that would bridge the 1971 cease-fire line, or Line of Control, that divides Kashmir. India wants travelers crossing the frontier to show passports, but Pakistan has rejected that demand because it doesn't want the cease-fire line to become a permanent international border.

India reportedly has suggested a way of marking passports to allay Pakistan's concerns.

The bus service is one of 72 "confidence-building measures" that India has proposed, most unrelated to Kashmir. They include reopening consulates in the two countries, easing visa restrictions, reducing troop deployments and increasing trade. But Pakistan's position is that once the Kashmir issue is settled, all other matters will be easy to resolve.

India and the U.S. have accused Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf in recent months of failing to keep his often-repeated promise to ensure that Islamic militants do not use Pakistani territory to train for and launch attacks on the Indian-controlled portion of Kashmir. Islamabad denies it is providing rear-base support for the militant groups.

On Saturday, Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh warned: "The dialogue will move forward only if terrorism is controlled."

Indian officials believe Musharraf may be reluctant to completely shut down the militants' operations, because doing so could ease pressure on India to negotiate an end to the conflict.

But it is also dangerous for Musharraf to try to curb militant groups with decades-old ties to Pakistan's military intelligence before he has negotiated a settlement that most Pakistanis, and Kashmiris, will support. Links between some of the militants and Al Qaeda complicate matters for Musharraf, who has survived several assassination attempts apparently carried out by Islamic radicals.

Nearly four months ago, U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Richard L. Armitage said Musharraf had told him that militants were not crossing from bases in Pakistani-controlled areas, which Islamabad calls Azad (Free) Kashmir.

"President Musharraf gave me absolute assurance that there was nothing happening across the Line of Control and there are no camps in Azad Kashmir -- and if there were any camps, they would be gone tomorrow," Armitage told reporters in Islamabad in May.

But during another visit to the region in July, Armitage said the militants' support network in Pakistan was still functioning.

"Clearly, all infrastructure has not been dismantled," he said in New Delhi, adding: "Any level of infiltration is too much from our point of view. There is infiltration. You get various opinions whether it is up or down. It is down probably. But the point is not to have it at all."

Pakistan's Foreign Ministry said Armitage's assessment was based on "faulty and flawed" intelligence.

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