Pakistani president prods India

On TV, Musharraf says he'll drop Kashmir claims if India does, too

December 06, 2006|By James Rupert | James Rupert,Newsday

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan -- President Pervez Musharraf pushed for a compromise settlement of the Kashmir conflict yesterday, telling Indians in a televised interview that he is prepared to give up territorial claims in the 59-year-old conflict if India will reciprocate.

Frustrated by what he says is the Indian government's slow response to his months-old proposals, Musharraf stepped up a media campaign in India by giving an interview to a prominent private channel, NDTV. But his appearance caused "scant ripples" in India's government, the Times of India newspaper reported.

Musharraf has been laying out his ideas in the Indian press and in his autobiography - distributed in English in India - in an attempt to bypass Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, analysts say. Singh's government is cautious about Musharraf's proposals, saying Pakistan continues to sponsor violent attacks in Kashmir and elsewhere in India.

Musharraf restated an "outside the box" proposal for both countries to jointly supervise an autonomous, demilitarized Kashmir. When Indian news anchor Prannoy Roy asked, "So you are prepared to give up your [territorial] claim to Kashmir?" Musharraf said, "We will have to, yes, if this solution comes up."

"Musharraf understands the reach of the media very well" and "is pretty deft as a tactician," said Uday Bhaskar, a senior fellow at India's Institute for Defense Studies and Analyses. "The big `but' in this is the issue of terrorism."

Last week, India filed criminal charges against nine Pakistanis as well as 19 Indians in the July 11 bombings of commuter trains in Mumbai (Bombay) that killed at least 185 people. India's anti-terrorist police agency accused the Pakistani militant group Lashkar-i-Toiba (Army of the Pure) of organizing the attack. Musharraf formally banned the group in 2002, but it continues many operations openly in Pakistan under the name Jamaat ud-Dawa (Society of the Call).

As with Pakistani support for the Taliban in Afghanistan, the degree of official involvement in assisting Lashkar is uncertain.

India's junior minister for foreign affairs, Anand Sharma, said India agrees with Musharraf's idea for ending Kashmir's iron division along the Indian-Pakistani cease-fire line that forms an effective border. But he said relaxation "can only come when conflict and distrust are removed," a reference to India's continued doubts that Pakistan is cracking down on militants attacking Indian-ruled Kashmir from Pakistan.

In January 2004, India and Pakistan began a diplomatic process that has relaxed relations between them. India favors slow "confidence-building measures" that would improve the overall atmosphere. They also would allow India to carefully judge Pakistan's commitment to stopping attacks against its neighbor.

Musharraf chafes at this.

"The initial signs of sincerity and flexibility that I sensed in Manmohan Singh seem to be withering away," he wrote in his book, In the Line of Fire, published in September. "I think the Indian establishment - the bureaucrats, diplomats and intelligence agencies and perhaps even the military - has gotten the better of him."

With his TV interview, "Musharraf is perhaps trying to force the pace a bit," Bhaskar said.

James Rupert writes for Newsday.

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