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Musharraf’s Kashmir Offer

Author: Carin Zissis
December 12, 2006

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President Pervez Musharraf said last week on New Delhi Television that Pakistan will give up its claim on Kashmir if India accepts a four-point resolution, including autonomy for the region under a joint government with Indian, Pakistani, and Kashmiri representation. Within days, a spokeswoman from Pakistan’s foreign ministry followed up by asserting that Islamabad did not consider the territory an “integral part” of Pakistan. Tasnim Aslam, whose remarks at a press conference in Islamabad drew criticism (The News) from Pakistani journalists, said that conflict between India and Pakistan was over the Kashmiris right to “decide their future” rather than claims on the India-controlled area of the Himalayan region. The comments have stirred speculation about whether Pakistan is making a break with decades-old policy or merely maneuvering to fend off international criticism on other fronts.

In the television interview, Musharraf also said that as part of the potential agreement, Pakistan would give up its former demand, based on a 1948 UN resolution, for Kashmiri people to hold a referendum to decide their representation. The dispute over the territory sparked a pair of wars between the two countries, which have both claimed Kashmir since their partition in 1947. Shortly after that, Kashmir’s Hindu leader chose to join India, setting off a conflict that left the predominantly Muslim area divided between the two countries along a border called the Line of Control. Since 2004, the two nations have engaged in peace talks. They have hit periodic roadblocks, most recently after India linked Pakistan’s intelligence agency to the July 2006 Mumbai bombings.

Although Musharraf’s comments signal a shift from decades of Kashmir policy, they do not represent a new proposal from the Pakistani leader, who has introduced similar ideas since 2004 peace talks began and in his recently published memoir. Instead, his remarks represent “another small step in a long diplomatic process rather than a breakthrough,” according to the Guardian. While New Delhi has not released an official response to Musharraf’s latest proposal, Anand Sharma, a junior external affairs minister, told reporters India remains committed to the region’s peace, but warned it can only come with the “removal” of distrust (Hindu). A new paper by the South Asia Analysis Group questions whether Indians and Pakistanis can get over their mutual, longstanding negative perceptions.

Stratfor, an intelligence analysis site, says the timing of Musharraf’s comments is important, coming amid increasing international pressure to control terrorist movements within his country. Stratfor says: “Musharraf hopes to counter accusations that Islamabad is backing militants while portraying India as the inflexible participant in the Indo-Pakistani talks.” India has long accused Pakistan of backing a violent separatist movement in Kashmir, which has claimed some 68,000 lives since its emergence in 1989. Separately, the Pakistani government faces constant calls to crack down on pro-Taliban forces, the latest such criticism coming in an International Crisis Group report.

An editorial in the Hindustan Times suggests Musharraf’s Kashmir proposal is an attempt to “regain relevance before his domestic constituency after enormous criticism from abroad.” The Pakistani opposition has used the U.S.-Indian nuclear deal, which passed through the U.S. Congress last week, to fault the Musharraf administration. The opposition says Musharraf permitted India to gain preferential treatment, despite the supposed U.S.-Pakistani alliance, says the Times of India.

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