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Nudge to snap free of Kashmir shackles

London, Nov. 2: Britain wants India to resume serious dialogue with Pakistan to solve the Kashmir dispute so that Delhi does not remain “pinned down to South Asia”.

No such demand is being made officially, but it is being conveyed in private to Indian officials as well as visitors from Delhi.

“We see India as a big country which has to play a role in world affairs,” a senior official in the British foreign ministry said. “But the Kashmir issue needs to be solved as it keeps India pinned down to South Asia. It has to break out of this and it could only happen if Delhi engages seriously with Islamabad and shows some real movement forward on the issue of Kashmir.”

Welcoming India’s recent proposals to normalise relations with Pakistan, the official said: “It is a very positive step as was the peace initiative taken by Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee earlier this year. These steps would definitely help in maintaining the momentum.”

British officials, however, pointed out that though these may be the steps in the right direction, ultimately a serious dialogue between the two sides was required. But they also admitted that such things were easier said than done, especially as cross-border-terrorism and violence sponsored by Pakistan against India continued.

“There is a lot of sympathy for India on the issue of violence and terrorism directed against it from across the border. We all know that serious talks between the two sides would be difficult unless cross-border terrorism stops. And there is much to do on that front,” a senior British diplomat said, adding that General Pervez Musharraf had assured both London and other key international players that Pakistan was doing its best to deal with the terrorists.

India’s 12 proposals to normalise relations caught many in the British establishment by surprise. The popular assessment was that no significant movement would be seen from either capital in South Asia as the ruling BJP was gearing up to face crucial Assembly elections.

“Seeing them in that context, the steps announced by India last month were very positive,” a senior foreign ministry official said. But he argued that more often than not such steps are seen by Islamabad as attempts by Delhi to “circumvent the core issue of Kashmir”. Therefore, a serious engagement between the two neighbours was required.

According to the British foreign policy establishment, there is growing public desire on both sides of Kashmir for peace. “People on both sides of the border are tired of the violence and wants some kind of a solution to the this decade-old dispute,” a senior official said.

Senior foreign policy officials said India should take this opportunity and get into a serious engagement with Pakistan on the Kashmir dispute.

But they also acknowledged that unless violence, especially cross-border-terrorism sponsored by Pakistan, came down, resumption of dialogue was difficult.

“We are not suggesting anything to either side about the sequencing. Which step needs to be followed by which one is up to the two countries,” an official said.

However, British foreign policymakers are also arguing that despite the setback of the Arga summit, India would have to deal with Musharraf.

“He is trying his best to control the terrorist groups and deal with them. It is not an easy job but we are using whatever diplomatic pressure we could with him,” a senior diplomat said.

But he was quick to add: “He is the person with whom India would have to do business.”

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