India, Pakistan held secret talks on Kashmir: report (Lead)

February 22nd, 2009 - 8:51 pm ICT by IANS  

Washington, Feb 22 (IANS) India and Pakistan engaged in nearly three years of secret high-level talks that narrowly missed achieving a historic breakthrough over Kashmir, according to a media report.

The effort which began in 2004 stalled in 2007, and the prospects for a settlement were further undermined by deadly terrorist attacks on Mumbai in November, the Washington Post said Sunday said citing an article by investigative journalist Steve Coll set for publication in New Yorker magazine.

The attempt ultimately failed, not because of substantive differences, Coll writes, but because declining political fortunes left then Pakistan president Pervez Musharraf without the clout he needed to sell the agreement at home.

Although Musharraf fought for the deal he became so weakened politically that he “couldn’t sell himself”, let alone a surprise peace deal with India, Coll says, quoting senior Pakistani and Indian officials.

Coll, a former Washington Post managing editor, writes that the resolution of the Kashmir issue was the cornerstone of a broad agreement that would have represented a “paradigm shift” in relations between India and Pakistan: a moving away from decades of hostility to acceptance and peaceful trade.

Under the plan, the Kashmir conflict would have been resolved through the creation of an autonomous region in which local residents could move freely and conduct trade on both sides of the territorial boundary.

According to Coll’s account, the secret negotiations consisted of about two dozen meetings in hotel rooms in various overseas locations.

The sessions revolved around developing a document known as a “non-paper”, diplomatic jargon for a negotiated text that bears no names or signatures and can “serve as a deniable but detailed basis for a deal”, the article says.

The US and British governments were aware of the talks and offered low-key support and advice but otherwise elected to let India and Pakistan settle their disputes unaided, the article says.

Relations - and hopes for resuming the peace initiative - began a downward slide after Musharraf left office, it said.

In Kashmir, anti-India fighters began an aggressive campaign of public demonstrations and terrorist attacks that seemed designed, Coll writes, to send a message: “Musharraf is gone, but the Kashmir war is alive.”

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