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Pakistan's leader seeks to reassure Kashmiris

Pakistani Prime Minister Pervez Musharraf met Thursday with Kashmir's local leaders in an effort to convince them that they would be party to any deal with India on the disputed territory.
/ Source: The Associated Press

Pakistan’s President Pervez Musharraf met Kashmiri leaders on Thursday to assure them their views would be not be ignored as India and Pakistan try to resolve their decades-old dispute over the Himalayan region.

Three days after a landmark meeting with Indian Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee, in which they agreed to start formal talks next month, Musharraf met leaders from Pakistan’s side of the divided territory on Thursday.

“Whenever the Kashmir issue is nearing a solution, we will take the opinion of Kashmiris with us and take their leaders into confidence,” Pakistan’s Information Minister Sheikh Rashid Ahmed quoted Musharraf as saying.

On Tuesday Pakistan and India issued a joint declaration on the sidelines of a regional summit agreeing to start a dialogue next month on all bilateral issues, including their dispute over Jammu and Kashmir.

“This is a breakthrough because in the past India was not ready to discuss anything,” said Sardar Sikander Hayat, Prime Minister of Pakistan-controlled Kashmir after meeting Musharraf.

But Amanullah Khan, a leader of the Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF), said he was disappointed by the decision.

The JKLF argues for an independent Kashmir, rather than joining India or Pakistan, and Khan was not invited to Musharraf’s meeting.

He said the declaration had ignored the sufferings of people in Indian-controlled Kashmir and made Kashmir appear a bilateral issue between Pakistan and India.

“The ...painful thing in the statement was that it did not accept the Kashmiris as party to Kashmir issue, whereas they are the first and the most important party to the issue.”

Mostly Muslim Kashmir has been divided between Pakistan and India since a war that followed independence from Britain in 1947. The two countries, now with nuclear arms, have fought two of their three wars over Kashmir and were on the brink of a fourth in 2002 over the scenic Himalayan territory.

Though the breakthrough has been widely welcomed, analysts have warned against expecting quick solutions to the dispute, which has killed at least 40,000 people since the rebellion erupted in 1989.

Hardline militant groups have vowed to fight on, despite the onset of peace talks.