SRINAGAR, India (AFP) -A call by Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf for the demilitarisation of three cities in Indian Kashmir has found favour in the restive region, despite being rejected outright by New Delhi.
A local politicians and a separatist leader said such a move could lead to progress on the vexed dispute between India and Pakistan over Kashmir, while people in the street said they would welcome the departure of Indian troops.
Musharraf called in a television interview late Saturday for an Indian army pullout from three key cities in India’s zone of divided Kashmir.
“I propose, one way of moving forward. … Take three towns of the valley — Srinagar, Kupwara and Baramulla. Let all military move out of the cities to the outskirts. And we ensure there is no militancy inside,” Musharraf said.
The Pakistani leader was referring to three key areas in Indian-controlled Kashmir, which has been in the throes of an Islamic insurgency since 1989.
Mehbooba Mufti, the head of the ruling Peoples Democratic Party in Indian Kashmir, said that if New Delhi agreed to demilitarisation, it would mark a “big confidence-building measure”.
“The situation has turned around. Violence has dropped and I think if New Delhi pulls back some of its troops it will amount to reposing trust in Kashmiris,” Mufti told AFP on Monday.
She said the time was ripe for local police to take over internal security duties and for this India should recruit 20,000 to 30,000 Kashmiri youths into the police force.
“India has reacted positively to earlier Pakistan proposals, it should show same magnanimity this time,” she said, referring to a ceasefire on the border, the launch of a trans-Kashmir bus service and the resumption of sports ties.
Mufti, who is the region’s leading woman politician, said ultimately there must be demilitarisation if the Kashmir problem is to be resolved.
“I would personally want a Kashmiri policemen rather than an outsider checking identities of the people on the roadside,” she said.
Kashmir is divided between India and Pakistan but claimed in full by both. The region has been the spark of two of the three wars between the archrivals since independence from Britain in 1947.
In New Delhi, Indian foreign ministry spokesman Navtej Sarna shot down Musharraf’s proposal.
“Such decisions (demilitarisation) are based on our assessment of the security situation prevailing in any particular part of the country,” he told reporters on Sunday in response to Musharraf’s comments.
India accuses Pakistan of supporting the Islamic rebellion in Kashmir, a charge Islamabad denies.
A Kashmir separatist leader also voiced support for demilitarisation.
“We appreciate Musharraf’s proposal. It can lead to some progress over the dispute of Kashmir,” said Shabir Shah, a senior separatist.
Shah has spent more than 20 years in different prisons for espousing Kashmir’s secession from India. He wants to see the region becoming independent.
Shah urged India to reconsider Musharraf’s plan. “Outright rejection of the proposal has proved once again that the Indian leadership is not serious about settling the vexed issue,” he said.
The proposal was Monay being discussed earnestly on the streets of the summer capital Srinagar and other parts of the state.
“It will be a dream come true if troops leave the cities,” said shopkeeper Mohammed Yusuf.
Yusuf said the situation has improved and the local police could easily take over the job of internal security from the army.
The Indian army has a huge presence in almost all the towns and cities of Kashmir, carrying out counter-insurgency operations that includes roadside frisking and checking which often annoys locals.