October 1998 News

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India Pak Talks Over Kashmir are First on Disputed Himalayan Region in 35 Years

17th October 1998
Washington Post

India and Pakistan talked to each other today about Kashmir, marking the first time in 35 years that the regional rivals have discussed at length their grudging dispute over the divided Himalayan region.

The renewed engagement on Kashmir came after competing underground nuclear tests by India and Pakistan in May turned international attention on Kashmir, which India considers an inseparable part of its territory and historically has refused to discuss with neighboring Pakistan. Each country has continued to claim the Muslim-majority region as its own since British colonial India was divided along communal lines in 1947.

The Kashmir discussion, which did not go much beyond a restatement of hardened positions, was the second time this week that predominantly Hindu India and the Islamic Republic of Pakistan have broken precedent to take up a difficult issue. On Friday, senior diplomats opened three days of talks here with a discussion of nuclear weapons issues.

The diplomats agreed to talk more about Kashmir when they meet again in New Delhi, probably next month. "We did exchange some ideas on how to approach the final settlement of Jammu and Kashmir," said Pakistani Foreign Secretary Shamshad Ahmad, using the formal name of the area under India's control. "Of course, this requires further detailed discussions, which we will continue in our next round."

K. Raghunath, India's foreign secretary, said the two sides hoped to be "moving toward understanding, toward solutions which are mutually acceptable."

In 1963, the last time India and Pakistan talked seriously about Kashmir, they drafted a settlement that would have included converting a "line of control" that divides the region into a permanent border. But India's first prime minister, Jawaharlal Nehru, ultimately balked at a provision to withdraw security forces from the lush Kashmir Valley and place it under international control.

Pakistan has long sought international attention and mediation on Kashmir, based on a 1949 U.N. resolution that calls for a plebiscite in the region. India steadfastly has rejected international involvement in what, after the Middle East, is the most enduring territorial dispute technically before the United Nations.

India and Pakistan do not use the same phrases to describe their dispute. To India, the one-third of the region controlled by its neighbor is "Pakistan-occupied Kashmir," which is known in Pakistan as "Free Kashmir." In New Delhi's view, the Muslim insurgents on India's side are "terrorists" waging a "proxy war" on behalf of Pakistan. Islamabad sees the insurgents as "freedom fighters" opposed to Hindu repression in "held Kashmir."

As a first step, Pakistan has in the past urged India to reduce the several hundred thousand security forces in its part of Kashmir, end alleged human rights violations and allow international monitors to assess compliance.

India in turn has demanded that Pakistan end its material support for the Kashmir insurgency, aid that Islamabad has denied giving since the separatist movement began in 1989, despite evidence some insurgents have been trained and armed by Pakistan's main intelligence agency.


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