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India quashes Kashmir peace hopes

Kashmir
Pakistan and Indian military forces remain on alert as talks falter  


NEW DELHI, India -- India has quashed any hopes of an immediate end to its 54-year conflict with Pakistan over the disputed territory of Kashmir.

New Delhi yielded no ground Monday, insisting the territory remained an integral part of India and rejecting Pakistan's call for a referendum on its future.

External Affairs Minister Jaswant Singh said the proposed visit by Pakistan's military ruler, Gen. Pervez Musharraf, to New Delhi for a summit meeting was unrelated to the Kashmir issue.

Singh said the problem of Jammu and Kashmir, where a bloody rebellion against its rule has raged for more than a decade, was a domestic matter.

"We will address the issue of Jammu and Kashmir and the situation in Jammu and Kashmir internally as a domestic issue and when it comes to relations with Pakistan it's a bilateral, international issue," Singh told a news conference.

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"These are two separate tracks and they will remain two separate tracks."

Singh, who is also defense minister, sought to explain India's unexpected invitation to Musharraf, which came last week after almost two years of refusing to hold any talks until Pakistan stopped "cross-border terrorism."

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He denied that there had been any turn-around in policy. He said India's position had never been "absolutist" and that the atmosphere was now conducive for engagement.

The minister declined to go into details of what the conducive atmosphere entailed.

India twinned its call for a summit last week with an announcement that its six-month-old "non-initiation of combat operations" against militants in Kashmir had been called off.

Pakistan-based militant groups -- to which Islamabad says it provides only moral support -- had rejected the truce and stepped up their attacks on security forces in the Muslim-majority state of Jammu and Kashmir.

Referendum ruled out

India and Pakistan have fought two of their three wars since independence from Britain in 1947 over Kashmir.

Islamabad says New Delhi must address the "core issue" of relations, Kashmir, and wants the implementation of a 1948 U.N. resolution which calls for a plebiscite to determine whether Kashmir should be folded into Pakistan or India.

Singh said India was prepared to discuss Kashmir with Pakistan as part of a so-called composite dialogue, the framework for past meetings which includes a broad range of issues such as trade and cultural ties.

He reiterated New Delhi's policy that the whole of Jammu and Kashmir -- which includes a large area held by Pakistan -- was part of India and would remain so.

Asked if India would consider a referendum, he said: "The question simply does not arise."

Pop singer Salman Ahmad summed the mood of political parties, religious groups and people on both sides of the border who believe it is time to stop the finger-pointing.

"The real threat for India and Pakistan is all the people who don't have food, all the people who don't have an education, who do not have shelter," he said.

General Pervez Musharraf's trip to India will mark the first summit between the nuclear neighbors since 1987.

Reuters contributed to this report.







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