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India-Pak breakthrough in sight
By Zafarul-Islam Khan

It seems India and Pakistan are finally moving to a breakthrough on Kashmir. The near-war tension since last December, foreign, especially American efforts to hammer out a compromise acceptable to both the countries, Pakistan's realisation that it cannot force a settlement on New Delhi now that 14 years of Islamabad-inspired militancy has failed to yield any results while the people of Kashmir are badly yearning for peace and above all the post-9-11 world scenario…all this has led General Musharraf to accept the compromise formula put forward by his American allies who have their own axe to grind. 

In a nutshell, the proposed settlement is based on the conversion of the Line of Control (LoC) in Kashmir to an international border. This was first leaked by The News, a Pakistani daily, which said on September 1 that President Musharraf during his forthcoming meeting with President Bush will discuss "a strategic headway for Kashmir solution" based on acceptance of LoC as border, barring Pakistan-based Kashmiri groups from interfering in India's internal affairs, and withdrawal of Indian claim on the Pakistan-administered Kashmir and Northern Areas. 

The Times of India on September 8, confirmed these reports. India, too, is willing to accept the package and forgo its claims on the Pakistan-administered Azad Kashmir and Northern Areas which are part of the erstwhile princely state of Jammu & Kashmir.

The News had said that "a formula for crucial shift from the present stance on Kashmir and related issues enjoying support of a strong lobby of generals, politicians, cabinet members, strategists and experts in Pakistan had been formed into a package" for Pak-US talks during the forthcoming visit.

This package was expected to invite a tirade from influential circles in Pakistan that want continuation of the traditional stance on Kashmir, notwithstanding the perils of such a policy. 

America's own strategic interests are believed to be behind this package in the the backdrop of certain developments which include the US Marines-led chase of al-Qaeda and Taliban remnants in the tribal areas of Pakistan along the Durand Line. The News added that recent statements issued by US policy-makers have revealed their intentions that they are going to make their stay in the region longer than initially perceived and, for this purpose, they need some mini garrisons in close but safer areas for logistics and operational purposes.

The Pakistani newspaper went on to say that the US would be seeking Pakistani cooperation that included provision of a base in the Northern Areas [which is part of the Pakistan-administered Kashmir], most probably in Skardu. 

Both Indian and Pakistanis spokesmen were quick to deny this report although it was observed that Pakistani government took no action against the newspaper which was most likely if the report was false in view of the limited press freedom available there.

The Times of India, September 8, quoted "official sources" as saying that the Vajpayee government has agreed to accept the LoC as the international border provided certain conditions are met by Pakistan. These conditions are: Pakistan will not claim or demand any more land in Kashmir after the agreement; and, it will stop proxy-war and terrorism in India.

India wants to make haste slowly. It will start shortly, perhaps within this month, with sending back the Indian ambassador to Pakistan. If the J&K polls pass of peacefully, a non-official level bilateral talks will begin next month. This will lead to the simultaneous withdrawal of the armies of both the countries from the borders. Thereafter, during the bilateral talks it will be agreed to turn the LoC into the international border.

The Times of India disclosed that the cabinet committee on security has discussed the proposal at length and most of the CCS members have endorsed it as ‘‘realistic’. J&K chief minister Farooq Abdullah, a long-time advocate of this, has expressed his support to the PM.

President Musharraf had given a hint to the forthcoming change in his policy towards Kashmir when he said on the BBC on September 6 that he is ready to be "flexible" to resolve the Kashmir issue with India but maintained that the vexed problem could be solved only if the two countries displayed "pragmatism" and "flexibility." General Musharraf had justified his coup against Nawaz Sharif precisely on these grounds - showing flexibility on Kashmir. 

The Kashmiris on this side of the border will not be happy. Said Mirwaiz Maulvi Umar Farooq: "What do the Kashmiris stand to gain by accepting the status quo that was agreed upon in the Shimla Pact? The division of Kashmir into two halves will have tragic consequences for the thirteen million Kashmiris living on both sides. When we talk about accepting the LoC, we are talking only about a territorial solution. What about the human dimension to this problem?" 

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