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Kashmir deal derailed by Musharraf's fall, media say

India and Pakistan were close to drawing up a framework for settling their long dispute over Kashmir in secret negotiations, but talks were scuttled by the fall of Pakistan's President Pervez Musharraf, the New Yorker magazine reported Sunday.

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AFP - India and Pakistan came close to devising a framework for settling their long conflict over Kashmir in secret negotiations, but it was put on hold by the fall of President Pervez Musharraf, the New Yorker magazine reported Sunday.

Referred to as "the back channel," the talks were held over several years by special envoys in hotel rooms in Bangkok, Dubai and London, according to the account in the magazine by Steve Coll.

The two principal envoys -- Tariq Aziz for Pakistan, and Satinder Lambah for India -- developed a text on Kashmir called a "non paper" because it contained no names or signatures but could serve as a detailed basis for a deal.

By 2007, the "non-paper" had become "so advanced that we'd come to semicolons," Khurshid Kasuri, Pakistan's foreign minister at the time, was quoted as saying.

The most recent version laid out several principles, including the gradual withdrawal of troops from the Kashmir region by both sides provided that violence declined.

Kashmiris would be given special rights to move and trade freely on both sides of the Line of Control that separates India and Pakistan, and a joint body consisting of local Kashmiri leaders, Indians and Pakistanis would oversee issues affecting people on both sides of the line, the report said.

"It was huge -- I think it would have changed the basic nature of the problem," a senior Indian official was quoted as saying. "You would then have the freedom to remake Indo-Pakistani relations."

Musharraf is quoted as telling the writer that the deal would have benefitted both sides.

Kashmir has been at the center of three wars between India and Pakistan, as well as operations by Pakistani-backed jihadist groups.

The Pakistani military, drawn into a debate about the definition of Pakistan's national security, accepted the view that diplomacy was the only way to achieve a settlement, according to the report.

"Pakistan had become a nuclear power. War was no longer an option for either side," said Kasuri, who attended a 2007 meeting in Rawalpindi called by Musharraf to review the progress in the negotiations with his senior generals and two foreign ministry officials.

Neither country had done anything to prepare their publics for a breakthrough on Kashmir, however.

In March 2007 Musharraf invoked near dictatorial power to fire the chief justice of Pakistan's highest court, setting in motion a chain of events that led to his ouster in August 2008.

But the New Yorker account concludes that had it not been for the back channel negotiations, India's response to the Mumbai attacks by Pakistani-based militants may not have been so measured.
 

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