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12/28/03 - PAKISTAN MAKES A KEY CONCESSION - 2003-12-29

For more than fifty years, Pakistan and India have feuded over the status of the border region of Kashmir. Among the issues in contention has been whether to hold a plebiscite in Kashmir to allow the people there to choose between joining India or Pakistan. Now, in a bid to end the dispute, Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf says that his country is willing to show greater flexibility on having a referendum in Kashmir if that can lead to progress in resolving the dispute.

Mr. Musharraf says both India and Pakistan will have to show flexibility if they want to settle the issue:

"We have come to a stage where there is a thaw in relations. The people of India and the people of Pakistan, they want a resolution of disputes, including Kashmir. If the political dialogue doesn't come about, who wins and who loses? It is the moderates who lose and the extremists who gain, and that is exactly what has been happening over the years here.”

President Musharraf's proposal on Kashmir opens an opportunity to address an issue that has strained relations between India and Pakistan for too long -- and twice led to open warfare. State Department spokesman Richard Boucher says the U.S. welcomes the proposal:

“We think it's constructive to relinquish the demand for referendum on the status of Kashmir. We believe that engagement in confidence-building measures, such as those recently adopted by both sides, move India and Pakistan towards establishing more normal relations, build the momentum for peace.”

India and Pakistan have already agreed to a cease-fire along the Line of Control dividing Kashmir as part of a series of steps to reduce tensions. It is important that both countries continue to move toward resolving their differences and achieving a lasting peace.