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Pakistan offers Kashmir compromise


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RAWALPINDI, Pakistan (Reuters) -- Pakistan is ready to drop long-standing demands for the implementation of U.N. resolutions over Kashmir and meet India "halfway" in a bid for peace, President Pervez Musharraf has said.

For over 50 years, Islamabad has insisted on a plebiscite to allow people in the divided Himalayan region of Kashmir to decide between joining India or Pakistan, a position backed by a series of U.N. Security Council resolutions in the late 1940s.

But, speaking less than three weeks before an important South Asian summit in Islamabad, Musharraf said he was prepared to be "bold and flexible" in an attempt to resolve the perennial dispute over Kashmir.

"We are for United Nations Security Council Resolutions," Pakistan's military ruler said in an interview at his home late Wednesday. "However, now we have left that aside."

"If we want to resolve this issue, both sides need to talk to each other with flexibility, coming beyond stated positions, meeting halfway somewhere."

New Delhi controls around 45 percent of Muslim-majority Kashmir, and insists it became an integral part of its territory after the princely state's Hindu ruler opted to join India after the partition of the subcontinent in 1947.

The nuclear-armed neighbors have fought two of their three wars over Kashmir and were on the brink of a fourth war last year over the scenic but troubled state.

Relations thawed this year and the two armies agreed to a cease-fire last month along the frontline in Kashmir.

Musharraf said this represented a "very real opportunity" to make peace, but warned India not to throw away the chance by continuing to spurn offers for talks.

"The basis of everything, the basis of a reduction in militancy ... is moving forward on a process of dialogue," he said. "If that political dialogue doesn't come about, who wins and who loses? It is the moderates who lose and the extremists who win, and that is exactly what has been happening."

Musharraf refused to be drawn on how to settle the Kashmir dispute, but said any solution had to be acceptable to Kashmiri people as well as to both countries.

Key summit

In January, Indian Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee is expected to visit Islamabad for a South Asian summit, billed as an important chance to move the peace process forward. Musharraf said Vajpayee should not miss the chance to discuss Kashmir.

"We have come to a stage where there is a thaw in relations, where there is expectation on both sides in the people," he said. "If the leadership doesn't rise to the occasion, it is a pity and I think we'll disappoint our public again."

But Musharraf warned that he would not plead for an audience with Vajpayee next month.

"The ball is in his court. If he wants to meet me, I'll meet him. If he doesn't want to meet me, I am not that keen."

Musharraf also criticized India for taking advantage of the cease-fire to accelerate construction of a fence along the Line of Control dividing Kashmir, a move he said showed New Delhi's "insincerity" about seeking a peaceful solution.

Amid Musharraf's talk of peace, the general's anger at his arch-foe often boiled over. "I do strongly believe that they are intransigent, they suffer from arrogance of power," he said. "I am a proud Pakistani, I will never submit."

"No sir, we will not forget Kashmir."



Copyright 2003 Reuters. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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