Archive for Thursday, October 23, 2003

India makes proposals to improve Pakistan relations

October 23, 2003

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— India unveiled major proposals Wednesday to improve relations with Pakistan, expanding travel and reuniting families. Pakistan saw some positive elements but expressed disappointment the steps exclude negotiations on Kashmir.

The proposals cover human concerns such as allowing athletes to compete in India-Pakistan cricket matches and letting fishermen go about their trade without fear of arrest.

The pronouncements by Foreign Minister Yashwant Sinha were the most extensive efforts so far to heal the wounds from a December 2001 attack on India's parliament complex. New Delhi blamed Pakistani-based militants for the attack, which killed 14 people, and insisted Islamabad's spy agency was behind the plot.

They were also seen here as a move to jump-start Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee's stalled peace initiative with Pakistan ahead of elections next year and seal his legacy as the man who renewed their friendship.

The travel proposals include the resumption of air and rail links, and running buses between the capitals of Kashmir, the Himalayan territory divided between the two South Asian rivals and a flashpoint for two of their past wars.

The Indian government also announced that for the first time in 13 years, it would meet with members of the separatist movement in India's portion of Kashmir, the country's only Muslim-majority state.

India has long insisted that the way to peace with Pakistan is through a step-by-step process that involves normalizing trade and people-to-people contacts, before tackling Kashmir. Islamabad insists Kashmir is the central issue, and other disputes would easily be resolved after the major sore point is settled.

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