Muzaffarabad, May 20 (Reuters): The prime minister of Pakistan-occupied Kashmir today called for the partition of Kashmir along religious lines as a way to resolve its standoff with India over the territory.
Sardar Sikandar Hayat Khan said Kashmir’s Muslim-majority areas should go to Pakistan and Hindu areas accede to India.
“This solution is the closest to the 1947 Partition plan under which India and Pakistan came into being,” Khan said in a telephone interview.
The proposal from Khan comes as a surprise as his party, the hardline All Jammu and Kashmir Muslim Conference, usually insists on Pakistani rule for the whole of Kashmir.
His call coincides with new steps by Pakistan and India to ease tensions after an 18-month standoff during which they went to the brink of a fourth war.
No comment was immediately available from the Pakistan government, which has called repeatedly for a UN-sponsored referendum to decide the fate of the territory.
Former Pakistan foreign minister Sartaj Aziz said the proposal had been put forward in the past.
“There are many options which have been discussed at the unofficial level but the important thing is to start a dialogue,” he said.
Irshad Mehmood, a Kashmir analyst at the Islamabad-based Institute of Policy Studies, said it was a workable solution supported by some Hindu nationalists.
“It is a feasible formula on which talks can be held with India. But it can only work if the Kashmiris on both sides sit together to discuss it first,” he added.
India holds about 45 per cent of Kashmir, Pakistan over a third and China the remainder.
Khan said the division of the mainly Muslim Himalayan region on religious lines would be “face saving” for Pakistan and India.
“If the Muslims of Kashmir are not prepared to live with India, how could Hindus agree to live with Pakistan'” Khan said. “This solution can be face saving for India, Pakistan and Kashmiris.”
While the majority of the militant groups fighting in Kashmir call for Pakistani rule, several groups favour independence from both Islamabad and New Delhi.
Indian Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee last month moved to break the India-Pakistan standoff by saying New Delhi was prepared to resume talks with Islamabad.
Later, Pakistani and Indian leaders spoke over telephone in what was the first top-level contact between the two countries since the failed Agra summit of 2001.
The neighbours have since announced moves to improve ties, including resumption of full diplomatic relations and plans to restore transport links.