Sun, May 18, 2003 - Page 5 News List

India drops Kashmir from peace talks with Pakistan

AP , NEW DELHI

In a new conciliatory gesture, India said Friday that it was not asking Pakistan to change its policy on Kashmir as a condition for peace talks between the two countries.

"I want to stress that we are not asking Pakistan to give up its point of view on Kashmir, but its stance on terrorism," India's Deputy Prime Minister Lal K. Advani told reporters.

A five-decade territorial dispute between India and Pakistan in Kashmir, and a 13-year Islamic separatist insurgency are at the heart of tensions between the two South Asian neighbors.

They routinely exchange tough words, but the hostility acquired a lethal edge five years ago when both countries armed themselves with nuclear weapons.

Advani's statement was a big departure from New Delhi's normally tough line -- in keeping with talks in both countries of the resumption of stalled peace talks.

India says the entire princely state of Jammu-Kashmir -- now divided between the two nations -- belongs to New Delhi. Its leaders have vowed they will eventually claim the entire territory.

Pakistan says India illegally holds on to the state, and demands a plebiscite in the region in accordance with a UN resolution.

"We shall not allow peace to be held hostage to the resolution of these differences, for which we will talk and talk and talk and see where we go," Advani said.

For years, India has maintained that it will not talk peace with Pakistan until Islamabad ends its support for the insurgency in Kashmir that has claimed more than 63,000 lives since it began in 1989. India retains this position, but has dropped it as a condition for talks.

Pakistan supports the rebellion but calls it an indigenous revolt, and denies claims of involvement.

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