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India/Pakistan: Leaders Call Peace Process 'Irreversible'

Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf The leaders of Pakistan and India say the peace process is "irreversible." The announcement comes in a joint statement issued at the end of a three-day visit to New Delhi by Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf. The Pakistani leader warns that it will take a long time to reach a final settlement on Kashmir. But today, he said both sides are now being more flexible on their positions and his visit has achieved more than expected.

Prague, 18 April 2005 (RFE/RL) -- Today's declaration of an "irreversible" peace process was signed by both Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf.

Singh read the statement to journalists at the end of Musharraf's visit to New Delhi. "The two leaders had substantial talks on all issues," he said. "They determined that the peace process was now irreversible. In this spirit, the two leaders addressed the issue of Jammu and Kashmir and agreed to continue these discussions in a sincere and purposeful and forward-looking manner for a final settlement."

President Musharraf said there was more progress toward a final settlement over Kashmir than he had expected. "I am fully satisfied, I am more than satisfied. I think we have achieved more than I expected because of the sincerity and the flexibility shown by both sides, by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and also the discussion which took place on the basis of sovereign equality. I think I am extremely satisfied with the outcome," Musharraf said.
President Musharraf says there was more progress toward a final settlement over Kashmir than he had expected.

Pakistan and India have fought two wars over Kashmir since their independence from British colonial rule in 1947. The territory has been divided between Pakistani and Indian administrations during the last 50 years. That division line has been the UN-backed Line of Control that was set up in the early 1970s after Pakistan and India fought their third war.

Now, as the peace process increasingly focuses on the details of the Kashmir dispute, the Line of Control is emerging as a main issue. In particular, whether the Line of Control should become a future international border.

Musharraf said it should not. But he noted three conflicting views in the current talks.

"India makes the statement that boundaries cannot be readjusted. I do not agree completely with this statement. But if this [Indian position] is clear, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh also must understand the position I have been talking about since our meeting in New York [in September 2004]. That making the Line of Control a permanent border is not a permanent solution -- because this is the conflict. He accepts this. But on the other hand, he also says do something so that boundaries can be made irrelevant. Now I ask you, how do these three statements compare? Boundaries cannot be readjusted. Boundaries should be made irrelevant. And the Line of Control cannot be made permanent," Musharraf said.

Zeb Rizwan, a research analyst at the Islamabad-based Institute for Regional Studies, told RFE/RL that Musharraf's remarks highlight a basic difference of opinion that will have to be resolved.

"When the Indian leadership says that there will be no redrawing of borders, in my humble opinion, they are referring to the Line of Control. What they are saying is 'What we have is ours and what you have is yours.' There is no doubt about it. The real issue is that the Line of Control cannot be a permanent solution and cannot be a permanent border. The sooner the Indians realize this, the sooner the problem will be solved. But if they think that eventually they will make Pakistan agree on transforming the Line of Control into an international border, I think that won't be possible. And eventually, something has to be thought of other than this option," Rizwan said.

Despite the declaration of an "irreversible" peace process, Rizwan says the debate about the Line of Control could lead to another stalemate.

"The Indian prime minister's statement that there can be no redrawing of the borders, it has been a long-stated policy of India regarding Kashmir. They are holding onto that position. And for that matter, even Pakistan is holding onto its position that the Line of Control cannot be the international border. So here is the basic difference of opinion which, if common ground is not found, may eventually lead to another stalemate in the process. The best way of getting out of it is to continue talking. I think at this point, the first thing they have to agree upon is what, exactly, is the problem of Kashmir," Rizwan said.

Another complication is how to bring political leaders from Kashmir into the peace process.

Musharraf said he has invited Kashmiri separatist leaders within the Indian-administered Kashmir to meet with leaders in Pakistani-administered Kashmir -- the part of the territory known in Islamabad as "Pakistan Azad Kashmir."

Mirwaiz Umer Farooq is the acting chairman of a moderate faction in the All Parties Hurriyat Conference. He was among the separatists within Indian-administered Kashmir who met with Musharraf yesterday.

Farooq said that without bringing the Kashmiri people into the process, those measures are incomplete. He said that President Musharraf "agreed that, yes, Kashmiris have to be involved. He said that [Islamabad] is taking up the issue with the government of India. He said that [the government in Islamabad] is looking forward for the Hurriyat Conference to come to Pakistan Azad Kashmir to talk with [its] brothers. [President Musharraf told me], 'You talk with the leadership there. You talk with India. You talk with Pakistan. This is the way to go forward."

So far, Farooq said there are no immediate plans for separatist leaders to talk directly with the Indian government. He said the Hurriyat is ready to join negotiations with New Delhi. But he added that the Indian prime minister will have to issue the invitation.