ISLAMABAD: Pakistan offered to drop a 50-year-old demand for a UN-mandated plebiscite over divided Kashmir and meet India halfway in a bid for peace on the subcontinent.
President Pervez Musharraf's proposal opened a new window of opportunity to address one of the world's most dangerous disputes between the nuclear-armed neighbours, political commentators said, even if massive hurdles remain on the path to peace.
All eyes will now be on the visit of Indian Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee to Islamabad for a key South Asian summit in January.
In an interview on Wednesday, Musharraf said he was prepared to be bold and flexible in an attempt to resolve the perennial dispute over Kashmir.
If we want to resolve this issue, both sides need to talk to each other with flexibility, coming beyond stated positions, meeting halfway somewhere, he said.
We are prepared to rise to the occasion, India has to be flexible also.
For over 50 years, Islamabad has insisted on a plebiscite to allow people in Kashmir to decide between joining India or Pakistan, a position backed by a series of UN Security Council resolutions in the late 1940s.
We are for United Nations Security Council Resolutions, Pakistan's military ruler said. However, now we have left that aside.
New Delhi controls around 45% of Muslim-majority Kashmir, and insists it became an integral part of its territory after the state's Hindu ruler opted to join India after partition of the subcontinent in 1947.
Former Indian foreign secretary J.N. Dixit said Musharraf's offer marked an important shift in policy.
He is signifying there will be flexibility in the Pakistani negotiating position, said Dixit, who has also served as India's envoy to Islamabad.
In Islamabad, Samina Ahmed of the International Crisis Group think tank said the Pakistani military realised it had to give ground if it was to retain any sympathy abroad.
If they keep on insisting on a plebiscite, it is not going anywhere, and they are also losing ground to India internationally, she said.
In a way it is a realisation that if they keep on asking for everything they won't get anything.
The neighbours have fought two of their three wars over Kashmir and went to the brink of a fourth conflict in 2002.
Relations thawed this year and the two armies agreed to a ceasefire last month along the frontline in Kashmir. Reuters
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