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Envoy stirs Kashmir pot

Srinagar, May 13: A senior Indian envoy today appeared to stir a row by favouring conversion of the Line of Control in Jammu and Kashmir into a “soft border”, phased withdrawal of troops from both sides of Kashmir and self-governance for the residents.

The BJP was quick to oppose the suggestions of Satinder K. Lambah, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s special envoy on back-channel negotiations with Pakistan, and iterated its position that both sides of Kashmir were an integral part of India.

“There is a resolution passed by our Parliament in this regardů they (the UPA government) are unnecessarily raking up controversial issues,” senior state leader S.S. Manhas said.

Lambah made the suggestions at an event organised by Kashmir University’s Institute of Kashmir Studies as he outlined the contours of a possible solution to the Kashmir issue, doing so possibly for the first time amid forecasts about a win by the BJP-led NDA.

Former Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf had made some of the proposals in 2006 to resolve the issue. These were opposed by the Valley’s hardline separatists but supported by some moderates, including Mirwaiz Umar Farooq.

Musharraf’s formula had envisaged softening the LoC, self-governance, phased withdrawal of troops and joint supervision of the border. Lambah made no mention of the fourth, stressing only on the first three.

The envoy made it clear he was making the suggestions in his personal capacity.

“After three wars and long periods of disagreements, it is essential that any agreement must ensure that the LoC is like a border between any two normal states. There can be no redrawing of borders,” Lambah said at the seminar.

Lambah also advocated free movement of people across the LoC, echoing Musharraf. “In accordance with the normal behaviour between nations, it is imperative that the people of J&K on either side of the Line of Control should be able to move freely from one side to the other. This is particularly essential as on both sides of the Line of Control live not only the same ethnic groups but also divided families.”

He said the process of removing tariff and non-tariff barriers in local goods should be hastened to facilitate meaningful LoC trade.

But the envoy took care to insert a rider for his proposals to work. “The essential prerequisite is that there has to be an end to hostility, violence and terrorism,” he said, days after BJP prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi said negotiations with Islamabad could not be held “amid gunshots, attacks and blasts”.