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Pakistan: Musharraf Calls For National Debate On Kashmir Options

President Pervez Musharraf (file photo) Pakistan's President Pervez Musharraf has called for a national debate about the possibility of removing arms from regions of Kashmir as part of an effort to resolve a 57-year-old dispute with India. Speaking in Islamabad late yesterday to a gathering of Pakistani journalists, Musharraf said demilitarization is one of several options that could lead to a breakthrough in relations with India.

26 October 2004 -- A national debate has begun in Pakistan about changing policies toward Kashmir after President Pervez Musharraf yesterday outlined a range of new options for the divided region -- including independence, demilitarization, and joint control with India.

Musharraf suggested a three-stage formula that could result in a "change of status" for the Himalayan region. "Change of status could mean many things," he said. "Independence is a status. Also, condominium, in which there is a joint control. A UN mandate can be there. And one has to sit with legal people for any other status. I do not know. So we need some solution. Identify region, demilitarize, change status. The whole debate of options will be based on this."
"In my opinion, if there is a way found in this, then each country [India and Pakistan] will be able to say we have not given in -- or if we have given in, the other has given in also."

Pakistan's long-held position over Kashmir has been that its people should vote in a plebiscite to decide whether the state should join India, Pakistan, or become autonomous.

But Musharraf said yesterday that other options must now be explored because a plebiscite is not acceptable to India. Musharraf also insisted that Islamabad will continue to reject the idea of making a permanent border out of the Line of Control that divides Kashmir into Pakistani and Indian zones.

"In my opinion, if there is a way found in this, then each country [India and Pakistan] will be able to say we have not given in -- or if we have given in, the other has given in also. Kashmiris, too, in my opinion, would be OK with this solution, because they get some authority and troops pull out. Now, I have given this...I have never spoken like this before to anyone. I would request you to debate on these lines," Musharraf said.

Musharraf suggested that the process of resolving the Kashmir dispute could start with determining the religious and ethnic makeup of seven regions within Kashmir. He said demilitarizing all or some of those regions could be the next step, followed by a change in the legal status of those regions.

"I will just leave food for thought for you. In the whole of Kashmir, there are seven regions. Two of these regions are in Pakistan, five are in India. In my opinion, identify a region -- whether this is the whole seven or part, I don't know. Identify a region, demilitarize the region. Troops out. And change its status," Musharraf said.

Musharraf's comments dominated the front pages of newspapers in Pakistan today and have been the top story on television news programs.

His call for debate has provoked a mixed reaction in Pakistan.

Muttahida Majlis-e Amal, the powerful Islamist alliance that is one of two major opposition groups in Pakistan's national parliament, immediately rejected Musharraf's proposals. Alliance Vice President Hafiz Hussain Ahmad described Musharraf's remarks as a step back from Islamabad's long-stated policy on Kashmir.

An activist from the outlawed Jaish-e Mohammad militant group said only a jihad, or holy struggle, over Kashmir is acceptable.

Amanullah Khan, leader of the Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front, has welcomed the idea of independence for Kashmir but rejects the notion of joint Pakistani-Indian control.

The Indian government did not offer any immediate official reaction to Musharraf's comments.

(compiled from wire reports)