India Offers To Discuss Kashmir With Pakistan

India Offers To Discuss Kashmir With Pakistan

11 April 2012
The Wall Street Journal
TOM WRIGHT And MATT MURRAY

New Delhi: India is willing to talk about the disputed territory of Kashmir with Pakistan as part of an effort to advance peace talks, India's top diplomat said, adding that Pakistan needs to take serious action against militants that use its soil to attack India. The comments by Indian Foreign Secretary Ranjan Mathai, in an interview with The Wall Street Journal on Wednesday, suggest that a recent thaw in relations between the two countries could lead to discussions on the key territorial issue, which has been off the table since 2007. Pakistan President Asif Ali Zardari visited India on Sunday and Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh accepted his invitation to make a first official trip to Pakistan, although he didn't commit to a time frame. The U.S. views better relations as essential to political stability in the region, including Afghanistan. A deal over the Himalayan territory of Kashmir, split between India and Pakistan in 1948 and claimed in its entirety by both, is vital to a long-term peace deal between the two nations, which have fought three wars since independence from Britain in 1947. Pakistani officials have long demanded India start discussions on Kashmir, while India wants Pakistan to crack down on militants. Choreographing progress on these demands will likely be important for further progress in the detente. Abdul Basit, a spokesman for Pakistan's foreign ministry, said that while there had been progress in the 'tone and tenor' of the discussions, Pakistan believed that 'unless the Jammu and Kashmir issue is resolved we cannot expect lasting peace in South Asia.' Mr. Mathai said Pakistan's failure to clamp down on militant groups that have attacked India is the major roadblock to peace talks. He said it was deeply troubling to India that Pakistani militant leader Hafiz Saeed was able to address public gatherings and appear on television. The U.S. and India allege Mr. Saeed helped plan the 2008 attacks on Mumbai, which killed more than 160 people. Last week, Washington offered a $10 million reward for information leading to his arrest and conviction. At the same time, Mr. Mathai said New Delhi views recent moves by Pakistan, including an agreement in February to open its markets to Indian goods, as a signal Islamabad is serious about an improvement in ties. 'I wouldn't have been as optimistic six months ago,' Mr. Mathai said about prospects for the latest round of peace talks, which began in earnest a year ago. 'The fact the government is able to move on the trade track shows there's a greater willingness to take things forward by all the players.' As the talks develop, India would consider reopening a serious discussion on Kashmir, Mr. Mathai said. New Delhi, he added, 'would be happy' to start talks toward a deal to keep Kashmir's borders as they are but allow greater trade and movement of people across the Line of Control, the de facto frontier that divides the territory. India and Pakistan were close to such an agreement in 2007. But the then-secret negotiations foundered as Pakistan's president at the time, Pervez Musharraf, became entangled in political troubles at home that led to his resignation the following year. 'It was a very useful channel of discussions,' Mr. Mathai said. 'They made progress.' Mr. Basit, the Pakistani spokesman, said he had no knowledge of the 2007 talks. New Delhi believes it is now 'up to the Pakistanis to decide how to proceed' on peace talks, Mr. Mathai said. India, he added, is looking for 'something solid' to announce before Prime Minister Singh visits Pakistan. One potential area of progress, Indian and Pakistan officials say, is a deal over Sir Creek, an area of marsh land bordering the Pakistan province of Sindh and Indian state of Gujarat and claimed by both countries. Other areas of discussion are likely to prove more contentious. Indian officials say militants such as Mr. Saeed continue to receive backing from Pakistan's powerful army, protecting them from a crackdown. 'If the army didn't want Hafiz on TV issuing threats to one and all, they'd be able to do something,' Mr. Mathai said. Since the Mumbai attacks, which killed six Americans, the U.S. has increased its pressure on Pakistan to take action against Mr. Saeed and the militant group he founded in the 1990s, Lashkar-e-Taiba. The U.S.'s decision to put a $10 million bounty on Mr. Saeed, Mr. Mathai said, shows that Washington has come around to India's view about the high level of threat from Pakistan militant groups. 'It does demonstrate that much of what concerns us is a broader international concern,' he said.