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|February 19, 1999||
Behind the smiles, Pakistan launches its Kashmir offensive
George Iype in Lahore
The disputed region of Kashmir, over which India and Pakistan have fought two wars since 1947, will be the main subject of discussion at the Vajpayee-Sharief summit on Saturday and Sunday.
India controls about two-thirds of Kashmir; one-third of it is in Pakistan's possession. India accuses Pakistan of aiding and abetting Kashmiri militants on the Indian side of the border.
Pakistan denies the charge and insists it only offers moral and diplomatic support to the Kashmiri Muslims in their struggle for self-determination.
Pakistan wants Kashmiris on both sides of the border to vote on a plebiscite whether to join Pakistan or India, but India has rejected this demand.
While tensions between the two countries -- which dramatically escalated after both conducted nuclear tests last May -- may subside after the Vajpayee-Sharief summit, many officials do not expect a breakthrough on the Kashmir issue by Sunday.
On the eve of Vajpayee's visit, the Pakistan government distributed a books and booklets debunking India's claim to Jammu and Kashmir.
'The date of the accession to India of the state of Jammu and Kashmir in late October 1949 can be questioned. But there is no dispute that at that time any such accession was presented to the world at large as conditional and provisional,' claims one booklet distributed to the Indian media corps here.
'The substance of this was communicated by Jawaharlal Nehru to Liaquat Ali Khan in a telegram of October 28, 1947 in which Nehru indicated that this was a policy which he agreed,' it says.
In another appraisal of the Kashmir issue, the Pakistan government says, 'the Indian apologists claim that the plebiscite was a proposal personal to Lord Mountbatten. But the plebiscite policy had been established long before Kashmir erupted in October 1947.'
Another statement from the Pakistan government points out that given the background to the terms of the original reference of the Kashmir issue to the United Nations Security Council, it is wrong to argue that Jammu and Kashmir is an internal Indian concern.
While Vajpayee will reiterate that the Kashmir issue can be settled only through bilateral talks between India and Pakistan, Sharief may reiterate Pakistan's desire for international mediation to settle the crisis.
An Indian external affairs ministry official told Rediff On The NeT that Pakistan's "hate campaign against India on the Kashmir issue seems to have escalated on the eve of the summit."
"We do not expect an agreement of the Kashmir dispute tomorrow. But we believe a series of cultural and economic pacts could pave the way for a settlement on the Kashmir issue in the future," the MEA official added.
Officials do not rule out the likelihood of Vajpayee and Sharief signing a no-aggression pact. Foreign ministry officials are said to be working on such a proposal.
Vajpayee may also suggest that both India and Pakistan host a series of Festivals of India and Pakistan to facilitate better cultural exchanges between the two peoples.
The Indian prime minister will express India's keenness to hold a Festival of India in Islamabad, Karachi, Lahore and Peshawar.
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