India restores Pakistan's rights to fly over its territory

In Delhi,Peter Popham@peterpopham
Sunday 26 January 2014 02:10

India announced it was restoring the right of Pakistani civilian aircraft to overfly its territory yesterday, its first conciliatory move since Indian troops were moved in strength to the border with Pakistan more than six months ago.

Shelling across the Line of Control that divides Kashmir was also reduced.

But India's decision to arrest a prominent Kashmiri separatist politician, Syed Ali Shah Geelani, under anti-terrorist legislation, was denounced by Pakistan's Foreign Ministry as "reflecting the Indian government's utter disregard for the rights of Pakistanis".

In Delhi, India's powerful Home Minister, Lal Krishna Advani, told The Independent that international pressure was responsible for the change in Pakistan's attitude, reflected in its promise to clamp down on cross-border insurgency. "In the past fortnight the major development has been the realisation by the international community that India's concerns in respect of cross-border terrorism are genuine, and that Pakistan is not doing what it promised," he said.

"Therefore there is pressure on Pakistan to carry out its promises. This is something that has brought about a change in the whole situation and there is some easing of tensions." He said he looked forward to the time when India and Pakistan's poisonous relationship was just a memory. Pointing out that he was born in Karachi and President Pervez Musharraf was born in Delhi, he said: "I long to see ... India and Pakistan becoming part of a big confederation."

But for now, he said, Pakistan ha dto do much more to convince its neighbour it was in earnest. "Cross-border terrorism has several ingredients," he said, "including organising camps, giving training, providing arms and ammunition. Infiltration is just one of these, and it is something you can stop for one or two months and then resume. Foreign envoys have been conveying to us that President Musharraf has solemnly promised not to promote infiltration. Not beyond that."

Mr Advani continues to insist that Pakistan hands over 20 men wanted by India on suspicion of terrorist activities. "As I again and again told [US deputy secretary of state Richard] Armitage, the list of 20 is something irreversible if Pakistan agrees to it, and it would be visible immediately not only to our government but to the people of India. The list of 20 is a litmus test of Pakistan's sincerity."

Although the proposal for an Anglo-American force to monitor the progress of Pakistan's crackdown on terrorism was described by Mr Armitage in Delhi as "far-fetched", Mr Advani welcomed it yesterday. "I have no objections to foreign countries monitoring on the Pakistani side," he said. "I have no objection to foreign agencies or countries examining the infrastructure of terror in Pakistan or Pakistan-occupied Kashmir." But the monitoring would only be permitted on the Pakistani side. "There is no infiltration from our side. So that's the side that has to be watched."

And the minister reiterated India's longstanding objection to the United Nations monitoring the Line of Control. The UN Military Observer Group in India and Pakistan has been in place in Kashmir for more than 50 years, although India allows it little scope. Mr Advani said the force "can't do it, it's not practical. It's a small agency. That is the practical objection, and the fundamental objection is that in India for a long time, since Cold War days, there has been a strong suspicion that foreign powers would like to use their influence to get control of the whole situation. On that there is a national consensus. What has to be done, has to be done bilaterally, between India and Pakistan."

Mr Advani strenuously denied there was any link between the arrest of Mr Geelani and the dispute with Pakistan.

Mr Geelani was said to have been arrested in connection with channelling funds to militants active in Indian Kashmir, among other reasons. "You can't indulge in crimes on the grounds that you are a dissident," Mr Advani insisted. "You keep on killing people or providing [the killers] with finance – you can't get away with that. We have ample evidence for anyone to see."

But regarding human rights in the Kashmir Valley, he was defensive. "There may be human rights abuses in the Valley of Kashmir. But are there any human rights in the rest of Pakistan? [sic] Violations of human rights take place not only in Jammu and Kashmir but in any democracy. They happen and we take corrective action.

"There are problems" in Kashmir, he conceded, "but there are no fundamental problems."

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