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Monday, July 12, 1999 Published at 19:32 GMT 20:32 UK

World: South Asia

Sharif appeals for Kashmir solution

Celebrations in Delhi as news of the withdrawal emerges

The Pakistani Prime Minister, Nawaz Sharif, has appealed for a permanent settlement of the Kashmir dispute, as fighting in the territory dies down.

Kashmir Conflict
In a nationwide address, Mr Sharif said he had diverted a wider war, even a potential nuclear war, by his handling of the crisis.

He said fighting which followed the entry of Pakistani-backed forces into Indian-administered Kashmir had succeeded in focusing world attention on the issue - a source of conflict between the two nations for nearly 50 years.

India has given Pakistan until Friday to ensure the withdrawal of all the forces from the Indian side of the Line of Control in Kashmir.

International attention

In his speech, Mr Sharif appealed to his Indian counterpart, Atal Behari Vajpayee, to begin talks on Kashmir.

Mike Wooldridge in Islamabad: Sharif is trying to turn a climbdown into a victory
"It is in the interests of both Pakistan and India to tackle the Kashmir issue with sincerety and good faith and resolve it through negotiations," Mr Sharif said.

He also defended his agreement with President Clinton earlier this month to persuade the infiltrators to pull out, saying that the world now understood the seriousness of the issue.

Mr Sharif said President Clinton had promised to take a personal interest in finding a solution.

Opposition parties and some militant groups have attacked the deal as a betrayal of the Kashmir cause.

Mr Sharif paid fulsome tribute to those who had died in the fighting, but said that, as leader, he could not afford to let his heart rule his head and follow certain people who he said were willing to see Pakistan destroyed.

He said he wanted to avert a wider war between two nuclear powers.

Withdrawal schedule

The Indian Government says Pakistan has agreed to comply with the deadline of Friday for a withdrawal, but there has been no confirmation of this from Islamabad.

(Click here to see a map of the area)

India has suspended air attacks in the region to allow the fighters to pull back from their positions on mountain bunkers.

"We have suspended the air strikes as of now, but we are ready for any change in the ground situation," said Air Marshal Vinod Patni of the Indian Air Force.

Military commanders meet

Pakistan began putting pressure on the fighters to leave after Mr Sharif agreed with President Clinton a week ago that "concrete measures" should be taken to restore the line of control that divides Kashmir.

On Sunday, Pakistan and India agreed on a plan for the infiltrators to withdraw from their positions, bringing a halt to the fighting.

Islamabad correspondent Owen Bennett-Jones: "Both sides claiming victory"
However, India denied that it had agreed a truce to allow the fighters safe passage.

Signs that the crisis was nearing an end came when Indian and Pakistani military commanders met near the Wagah border crossing in Punjab, their first talks since the fighting began.

Pakistani Foreign Minister Sartaj Aziz announced that they had agreed on a sector-by-sector "cessation of ground and air operations" in Kashmir.

The Indians are claiming a military victory over the infiltrators.

A spokesman for the Indian prime minister said there was no use of the word "ceasefire", or any other term like it in the agreement.

Army spokesmen have insisted there is no question of a ceasefire until every intruder has left.

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