'India will never give up Kashmir'
31/12/2002 14:38 - (SA)


New Delhi - Indian Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee said on Tuesday India would never give up Kashmir and called on Pakistan to abandon its "futile" policy on the disputed region.

In a New Year's message from the coastal state of Goa, where he is on a four-day break, Vajpayee also called for better economic and cultural ties with Pakistan in order to bring about an amicable solution to the Kashmir dispute.

"I find it very odd that whereas India reconciled itself long ago to the creation of Pakistan, the latter continues to find it difficult to accept the unchangeable reality of a united and secular India," he said in the message to the more than a billion-strong population of India.

"Pakistan, even after five and a half decades of failed pursuit, seems to be unready to face the truth that Jammu and Kashmir is an integral part of India and will always remain so."

Since independence from Britain in 1947, India and Pakistan have fought two wars over Kashmir, which is divided between them and claimed in full by both, and came dangerously close to a third this year.

Tensions between the nuclear rivals escalated after a deadly attack on the Indian parliament in December 2001 blamed by New Delhi on Pakistan-backed militants fighting Indian rule in Kashmir.

Nearly a million troops were deployed on their common borders and most were only withdrawn after October.

India claims Pakistan arms and funds Islamic militants in Kashmir, a charge which Islamabad denies.

"Innocent children, women and men and being routinely killed, temples are stormed, our symbols of democracy are attacked and our security forces are challenged - all in the name of a 'holy religious war' and 'freedom struggle'," Vajpayee said.

"I am convinced that someday - hopefully soon - the people and rulers of Pakistan will realise the futile and counter-productive nature of its Kashmir policy...

"Therefore it must stop cross-border terrorism and abandon its insistence on the 'centrality' of the Kashmir issue."

Vajpayee said India and Pakistan should agree to promote mutually beneficial trade and economic ties, strengthen cultural relations and encourage people-to-people contact.

"Once our two peoples experience the fruits of a tension-free and cooperative environment, we will be able to see the Kashmir issue in its proper dimension and arrive at an amicable and lasting solution," he added. - Sapa-AFP