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(photo credit: AP [file])
Pakistan is willing to give up its claim to all of Kashmir if India agrees that the disputed Himalayan region should become self-governing and largely autonomous, Pakistani President Gen. Pervez Musharraf said in an interview broadcast Tuesday on Indian television.
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?" Musharraf responded: "We will have to, yes, if this solution comes up."
Musharraf's comments were similar to proposals he has floated in earlier interviews and in his recently released autobiography, "In the Line of Fire."
But 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 Mumbai 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 Musharraf's interview, Anand Sharma, India's junior minister for external affairs, told reporters that India has always maintained the two counties can make Kashmir's heavily militarized frontier, the so-called Line of Control, "irrelevant."
But India has also demanded that before any such moves are made, Pakistan must 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," Sharma said, an apparent reference to New Delhi's demands that Islamabad crack down on the militants.
Two of India and Pakistan's three wars since independence from Britain in 1947 have been fought over Kashmir, and the Islamic insurgency has beset New Delhi's part of the region since 1989, so far killing about 68,000 people. Some of the insurgents want to see an independent Kashmir, while others want India's part of the region merged with Pakistan's.
India and Pakistan began a peace process in 2004 that has seen tensions between the countries ease considerably.
Although there has been scant public progress in settling the Kashmir dispute, officials on both sides privately say advances have been made in back channel negotiations, largely between retired officials on both sides.
The officials, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the talks, have said the main features of a Kashmir deal would be the opening for travel and trade of the frontier between the Indian- and Pakistani-controlled parts of Kashmir and a staggered withdrawal of troops from each side.
Accepting such a plan would be a major departure for both Pakistan and India.
Islamabad has previously insisted a referendum be held in all of Kashmir to determine whether the region should be part of India or Pakistan.
New Delhi, meanwhile, says Kashmir is an integral part of India and has resisted moves to redraw its borders.
In Tuesday's interview, Musharraf said Pakistan would give up its demand for a plebiscite if India agreed to more autonomy for its part of Kashmir.
"Inherently, both sides have to give up their positions and step back," he said. "If one of us is not prepared to step back, we will not reach a solution."
External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee is scheduled to visit Islamabad for talks on Jan. 13, and India's prime minister is expected to visit Pakistan sometime early next year.