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Pak welcomes India's proposals to improve relations

The measures proposed by India and Pakistan to ease tensions are helping to normalize relations, said the Pak Prime Minister.

india Updated: Nov 13, 2003 18:14 IST

The measures proposed by India and Pakistan to ease travel restrictions and open the war-blocked frontier in Jammu and Kashmir to civilian traffic are helping to normalise relations and lead to a solution of larger issues, Prime Minister Zafarullah Khan Jamali said on Thursday.

"India wants negotiations. We also want a solution of disputes through negotiations," Jamali said, a day after Pakistan accepted a list of Indian proposals aimed at increasing contacts between the two peoples. It also made suggestions of its own. "Confidence-building measures will play an important role in normalising relations," Jamali said at a book-launching ceremony inLahore. "We are moving toward solution of the Jammu and Kashmir dispute, because Kashmir is the real issue between the two countries."

Last week, New Delhi announced a series of proposals to ease tensions with Pakistan after a December 2001 attack on India's parliament brought the South Asian neighbors to the brink of war. India accused Pakistan of sponsoring the attack, a charge Islamabad denied.

In the most startling advance, Pakistan accepted India's offer to reopen the road between Srinagar to Muzzafarabad, the capitals of Jammu and Kashmir andPakistani-controlled Kashmir.

The road has huge symbolic importance to Kashmiris, where many families live on both sides of the cease-fire line that divides the Himalayan region. Both nations claim the former princely state in its entirety; they have fought three wars, two of them over Jammu and Kashmir. However, Foreign Secretary Riaz Khokhar, announcing Pakistan's response on Wednesday, said the frontier crossing must be manned by United Nations personnel, and Kashmiris who use the highway should use U.N. travel documents- a condition likely to meet with resistance from India.

The gradual peace process has done little to silence the routine exchanges of gunfire and shelling across the cease-fire line in Jammu and Kashmir. One woman was killed and a man was wounded on Thursday byfiring on the village of Haripur, just across the so-called Line of Control with India, the military reported. "The cross-border shelling by India into civilian areas continues," said military spokesman Gen. Shaukat Sultan. Analysts in New Delhi dismissed the suggestion of a U.N. role on the border in Jammu and Kashmir.

"The Pakistan proposals are full of mischief," said S.K. Singh, formerly the top Indian diplomat in Pakistan. "Pakistan is bringing in Kashmir not in a workmanlike negotiating manner, but in a way which is teasing and irritating, deliberately in order to get the proposals rejected."

The United Nations has had a small number of military observers- 45 at the present time - on the India-Pakistan border since January 1949, the end of the war that followed the partition of the subcontinent. But it has great difficulty operating because it must get permission from both sides.

Pakistan has allowed the monitors to visit its side of the border, but India has not. Pakistan has asked for U.N. action to help resolve the Jammu and Kashmir dispute, but India has said the matter should be settled bilaterally.

Retired Pakistani diplomat and analyst Najmuddin Shaikh said most of the proposals had been anticipated, essentially returning relations to where they were before the parliament attack in New Delhi. "This is the first step toward a dialogue," he said. At U.N. Headquarters in New York, Secretary-General Kofi Annan's spokeswoman Marie Okabe said Annan welcomed proposals to improve relations. "He has called for the resumption of dialogue between the two countries to resolve their differences, including Kashmir," she said.

Khokhar rejected India's demand that Pakistan end what it calls "cross-border terrorism"- its alleged support for militant groups fighting the Indian army in Kashmir for nearly 14 years- before agreeing to substantive talks on Kashmir.

"We have done just about everything possible" to stop infiltration, he said. "There is just no way any country can seal its borders 100 per cent. It cannot be done."

First Published: Nov 09, 2003 00:00 IST