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July 11, 1999
Pakistani troops begin withdrawal
Pakistani Foreign Minister Sartaj Aziz today said Indian and Pakistan military officials had agreed on a sector-by-sector cease-fire to end the worst military confrontation between the South Asian neighbours in 27 years.
Aziz told a hastily convened press conference in Islamabad that the agreement to end two months of hostilities was worked out at an unannounced meeting of the directors general of military operations of the two countries at Attari in India today. The meeting was held at Pakistan's instance.
He said the agreement would allow the intruders being pounded by Indian artillery to withdraw from hilltop hideaways, which they had occupied earlier this year.
"The directors general of military operations of the two countries met today and agreed on the modalities of de-escalation, including sector-wise cessation of ground and air operations to facilitate the mujahideen's disengagement," Aziz said.
The meeting of the DGMOs took place exactly a week after Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharief flew to Washington for talks with American President Bill Clinton and agreed to take "concrete steps" to end the fighting.
Sharief has appealed to the so-called mujahideen, who are lionised by the Pakistani media and public, to withdraw from a stretch of mountains from Batalik to Drass in north-central Kashmir.
The infiltrators have already been cleared out by Indian troops from most of those areas and remain in possession of only tiny pockets near the Line of Control.
Aziz paid tribute to what Pakistan claims are mujahideen. "In the past few weeks the mujahideen action has been gloriously successful as the just and legitimate cause of Kashmir has engaged the international community's undivided attention throughout this period," he claimed.
Brigadier Rashid Quereshi, the chief army spokesman, said a winding down of hostilities had already begun. "The de-escalation that started yesterday is progressing fine in the Kaksar sector to allow the mujahideen to disengage," he said.
Aziz added that disengagement from the Mushkoh Valley sector was to "start today" and was aimed at a phased de-escalation of tension.
The mujahideen's umbrella organisation, the United Jihad Council, which comprises 15 terrorist groups, has publicly refused to withdraw from what it calls its motherland.
But Aziz said the mujahideen had given a "positive response" to a government appeal to pull out of the territory to make good Sharief's pledge to Clinton.
According to Pakistan, Clinton has promised to take "personal interest" in nudging India to resume peace talks with Pakistan under the Lahore Declaration the two countries signed in February.
"Today a consensus has emerged that immediately after the de-escalation in Kargil the focus must shift to the expeditious solution of the Kashmir dispute, so that the one billion people who inhabit South Asia can lead a life of peace and engage in endeavours for economic development and prosperity," Aziz declared.
India has always rejected any third-party mediation, insisting that Kashmir is an Indo-Pakistan problem that has to be worked out bilaterally.
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