NEW YORK, Sept 14: President Pervez Musharraf is going to ask Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to withdraw troops from pre-designated areas in occupied Kashmir when he meets the latter on Wednesday evening.

“The president has already discussed this proposal with President Bush,” said Ambassador Jehangir Karamat while briefing journalists.

“We have not yet drawn a list, but as a former army chief I believe that troops can be withdrawn from places like Kupwara and Baramula.”

At his meeting with US President George Bush on Tuesday evening, Gen Musharraf also sought US help for achieving an overall reduction of Indian troops in occupied Kashmir, said the envoy.

Such a reduction would contribute to a peaceful resolution of the Kashmir dispute and would boost the current peace process, he said.

“We are not asking for demilitarization (but) only for a withdrawal,” said the envoy. He later explained that troops couldn’t be resent to a demilitarized zone while in the proposed arrangement “India can resend troops to these areas if the situation warrants.”

President Musharraf made the proposal during a 30-minute, one-to-one meeting with President Bush.

Gen Musharraf is also scheduled to meet Iranian President Mahmud Ahmedinejad, which is considered as important as his meetings with the US and Indian leaders. He is expected to discuss with President Ahmedinejad the proposed Iran-Pakistan-India gas pipeline.

At an earlier briefing here, Foreign Minister Khurshid Mehmood Kasuri acknowledged that there were differences between Pakistan and the US on this issue as Washington continued to oppose the project.

But on Wednesday, all attention was focused on the Musharraf-Singh meeting, which has assumed an added importance because of Pakistan’s proposal for troops’ withdrawal from certain areas in Kashmir which, Ambassador Karamat said, would be a ‘definite step towards meaningful progress’ on Kashmir.

In his meeting with Mr Bush, President Musharraf pointed out that if there were no Indian reciprocity on the issue of Kashmir, all other confidence-building measures would ‘lose’ their impact.

“The proposal is a message for India and the United States as well,” Mr Karamat said in reply to a question and added that Washington had all along been facilitating the peace process between Islamabad and New Delhi. Ambassador Karamat described the meeting – one of the few President Bush has had in view of his preoccupation with Hurricane Katrina – as “very important and one in which the two leaders reviewed a wide spectrum of bilateral ties, including defence cooperation.”

Although US officials have offered no comments on the meeting, it was obvious that the Americans were seriously concerned about security in Afghanistan during the forthcoming elections.

Mr Karamat said President Musharraf used the meeting with President Bush to reaffirm Islamabad’s commitment to peace and stability in Afghanistan, especially during the upcoming parliamentary elections.

The president recounted Pakistan’s recent steps, including beefing up of troops on its side of the border and increasing the number of border posts to 800, and called for a balance in troop deployment on the Afghan side for an effective check on incursions.

He told the American leader that the relocation of refugee camps from Pakistan to the Afghan side of the border would also help control any illegal movement across the border.

On the Middle East, President Musharraf expressed satisfaction at Israeli pullout from Gaza and called for similar withdrawal from the West Bank and ultimately for moving towards settling the status of Jerusalem.

President Musharraf asked the American leader to expedite the process of free trade between the two countries, saying Pakistan looked forward to bolstering its exports to the US market.

The two leaders felt that bilateral ties were moving forward satisfactorily, especially in the defence field, Mr Karamat said.

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