Wed, May 07, 2003 - Page 5 News List

Pakistani prime minister gets go ahead for talks

AP , ISLAMABAD

Pakistani opposition parties endorsed Prime Minister Zafarullah Khan Jamali's moves to hold peace talks with nuclear rival India, a Cabinet minister said yesterday.

The endorsement was given late on Monday at a meeting between the opposition parties and the government, which was called specifically to reach a consensus on recent efforts to end the two countries' bitter rivalry.

"This meeting was very productive and Prime Minister Jamali has won the backing of all national parties," Information Minister Sheikh Rasshid Ahmed told reporters.

"We hope that talks between Pakistan and India will start very soon," he added.

India and Pakistan said last week that they would hold talks -- the first in two years -- to resolve more than 50 years of war and acrimony. The South Asian neighbors also said they would restore full diplomatic relations. India also agreed to restore air links, but Pakistan has so far not reciprocated.

The peace overtures come ahead of a visit this week by US Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage, who was expected to arrive late today in the Pakistani capital, Islamabad.

Jamali, however, told the leaders of the political parties that there was no international pressure on Pakistan to hold talks.

"We are not under any sort of pressure to initiate a dialogue with India, nor are we taking this step in haste," the state-run news agency Associated Press of Pakistan quoted Jamali as saying to reporters.

The desire for talks is motivated by the "highest consideration for peace and in the larger interest of the both countries," Jamali was also quoted as saying.

Liaqat Baloch, a senior leader of the country's religious alliance, Mutahida Majlis-e-Amal or United Action Forum, told reporters that while the alliance supported talks with India, "the wishes of Kashmiris should not be ignored."

Pakistan and India both claim Kashmir in its entirety, and have fought two wars over the region since they gained independence from Britain in 1947. A Line of Control divides Kashmir between the two nations.

Muslim militants launched an insurgency in Indian-controlled Kashmir in 1989, demanding independence or its merger with Pakistan.

India accuses Pakistan of backing the rebels. Pakistan says it only extends moral, political and diplomatic support to the Islamic militants.

The insurgency has left more than 61,000 people, mostly civilians, dead.

Pakistani Information Minister Ahmed said yesterday that a peaceful resolution of the issue of disputed Kashmir is "very much possible."

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