Pakistan PM calls for peace with India amid rising Kashmir tension

ISLAMABAD Tue Aug 20, 2013 12:34am IST

Pakistan's Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif addresses attendees at a flag raising ceremony to mark the country's 67th Independence Day in Islamabad August 14, 2013. REUTERS/Mian Khursheed/Files

Pakistan's Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif addresses attendees at a flag raising ceremony to mark the country's 67th Independence Day in Islamabad August 14, 2013.

Credit: Reuters/Mian Khursheed/Files

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ISLAMABAD (Reuters) - Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif called for better relations with India in a conciliatory gesture on national television on Monday after weeks of increased military activity along the two nations' disputed border.

Nawaz Sharif's words may do little to placate Indian politicians furious over the August 6 deaths of five Indian soldiers on their side of the heavily militarised Line of Control, which runs through the territory of Kashmir.

"I have made better relations with India my priority. And in the May election, the nation stood by me," Sharif said in a speech, referring to his landslide victory in recent polls.

"Wars between India and Pakistan have put us behind decades. Now we should not be fighting one another but come together to fight poverty and illiteracy."

India accuses Pakistan of being behind the soldiers' deaths and of sponsoring militant attacks across the Kashmir border as a way to increase pressure on India in Afghanistan ahead of the 2014 drawdown of NATO troops.

Pakistan has denied involvement and instead accused India of opening fire and killing one of its soldiers in late July.

Also the same month, police in Pakistan-controlled Kashmir said four civilians who had gone to collect herbs near the Line of Control had gone missing and their families believed they had been detained by the Indian army.

India enjoys warm relations with the Afghan government, but Pakistan's powerful military has frequently been accused of backing Taliban insurgents fighting the Afghan government - accusations they strongly deny.

Hindu-majority India and Islamic Pakistan have fought three wars since independence in 1947 and came close to a fourth in 1999. Each nation is suspicious that the other wants a proxy government in Afghanistan.

Critics sad that while Sharif's speech was clear on his desire to improve ties with India, he sent mixed signals on how he plans to tackle militancy within Pakistan.

"I would like to take a step forward and invite those elements for dialogue who have unfortunately taken the path of extremism," Sharif said in his speech.

But he also refused to rule out the use of force, although it was unclear when or how it might be deployed.

"Like every Pakistani, I want to put an end to this bloodshed as soon as possible, whether this is done through mutual understanding at the negotiating table or the use of full fledged state force," Sharif said.

He did not address previous preconditions for talks raised by the Taliban, including a breaking of relations with the United States and resumption of hostilities with India.

(Writing By Katharine Houreld; Editing by Mark Heinrich)

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