- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 5, 2006

12:36 p.m.

NEW DELHI — Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf said today he is willing to give up Pakistan’s claim to all of Kashmir if India agrees that the disputed Himalayan region should become self-governing and largely autonomous.

Gen. Musharraf’s office later sought to clarify the president’s remarks, saying his offer was not unilateral but was contingent on India doing the same. It also claimed Gen. Musharraf’s remarks had been “twisted” out of context.

Gen. Musharraf said Pakistan would agree to predominantly Muslim Kashmir becoming an autonomous region, still technically divided between the two countries but with a porous border and loosely administered by both nations, independent NDTV reported. His proposal also includes a staggered withdrawal of troops from the heavily militarized region, NDTV said.

Asked by NDTV, “So you are prepared to give up your claim to Kashmir?” Gen. Musharraf responded: “We will have to, yes, if this solution comes up.”

While similar to proposals he has floated in earlier interviews and in his recently released autobiography, “In the Line of Fire,” Gen. Musharraf’s statements were among his strongest comments to date on a possible solution to the 58-year dispute over Kashmir.

They were likely to draw strong opposition from Islamic hard-liners who staunchly defend Pakistan’s long-standing claim to all of Kashmir.

However, they came in an interview with an Indian television channel less than a month after India and Pakistan renewed their peace process, temporarily suspended by New Delhi after the July 11 Bombay train bombings, which killed more than 200 people. India says Pakistan’s intelligence agency played a role in the attack, a charge Islamabad denies.

Following the broadcast of Gen. Musharraf’s interview, Anand Sharma, India’s junior minister for external affairs, told reporters that India has always maintained that the two counties can make Kashmir’s heavily militarized frontier, the so-called Line of Control, “irrelevant.”

However, India also has demanded that Pakistan must first clamp down on Islamic militants fighting Indian rule in Kashmir. New Delhi accuses Pakistan of providing training and material to the insurgents, while Islamabad says it only provides diplomatic and moral support.

“We want the people of Pakistan and India and this region to enjoy the fruits of economic development, which can only come when conflict and distrust are removed,” Mr. Sharma said, an apparent reference to New Delhi’s demands that Islamabad crack down on the militants.

Islamabad previously has insisted that a referendum be held in all of Kashmir to determine whether the region should be part of India or Pakistan.

New Delhi says Kashmir is an integral part of India and has resisted moves to redraw its borders.

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