The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Mufti in ‘soft’ border cry

New Delhi, May 12: Jammu and Kashmir chief minister Mufti Mohammad Sayeed today pushed for a “soft border” between the two Kashmirs — the territory he rules and the one under Pakistani control.

Mufti, who can be credited with bringing about a change in people’s mood in the embattled state, said that a softening of the Line of Control would be the biggest confidence-building measure as it would have a bearing on the divided families on either side.

“When opening of entry points in Rajasthan can be considered on the plea that it is closer to (the) Sindh province (of Pakistan) to facilitate the visit of Sindhis on both sides, what is the harm if a similar facility is also considered for divided families of Kashmir'” the chief minister was quoted as saying in a statement released by the Kashmir government in the capital.

Currently, the only land route between India and Pakistan is through the Wagah checkpoint. A soft border and a bus from Srinagar to Muzzaffarabad in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir are steps that would bring tangible benefits to the Kashmiris living on either side of the border, the Mufti administration believes.

His administration also feels that soft borders would encourage trade.

The idea of a soft border in Kashmir has been around for years and is the pet theme of a number of international think tanks devoted to Kashmir studies.

Though the People’s Democratic Party chief has made public statements about a porous border in Kashmir, he has not formally asked New Delhi to push for it. This morning, too, when he met deputy Prime Minister .K. Advani at his office, he did not broach the subject.

The chief minister knew that Advani, who is also the Union home minister, would not seriously consider his request for a porous border when India is still claiming that infiltration has not come down. But it did not stop him from seizing on Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s peace initiative with Pakistan and echoing the popular sentiment of the people of Kashmir.

Sources say Mufti might later take up the issue with the Prime Minister. It was Vajpayee who had suggested a similar proposal before the 2001 Agra summit with General Pervez Musharraf, though all talks of a soft border to facilitate movement across the international border were abandoned after the collapse of the summit.

While coming out of Advani’s office, Mufti was asked whether infiltration in the state had gone down. “I am not aware of any such trend of infiltration going down,” he said, but the chief minister emphasised that the mindset of the people of Kashmir had changed since the first “free and fair” elections in the state last year.

“People have understood that violence is no answer to any problem and they are praying to the Almighty for complete normalisation of the situation,” he said.

“Both India and Pakistan have a stated position on Kashmir. We can only hope that both the countries attempt to solve all issues bilateral,” the chief minister added, though he said the process of normalisation would be long.

Mufti’s meeting with Advani was also to follow up on the announcements the Prime Minister made during his visit to Srinagar last month, especially the promise of one lakh jobs in two years.

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