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Attacks will not sidetrack Kashmir peace talks - Pakistan

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By Michelle Nichols

CANBERRA, June 14 (Reuters) - Pakistan and India's quest to resolve a long-running row over Kashmir will not be pushed off course by militant violence in the Himalayan region, Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf said on Tuesday.

Musharraf, speaking a day after a deadly car bombing in Kashmir, said nobody could stop the violence, which he vowed would not distract India and Pakistan from the peace process they have both described as irreversible.

"I think we should not be overly bothered about (the car bombing) and we should not allow it to affect the peace process," Musharraf told Reuters in an interview during the first visit by a Pakistani president to Australia.

"I would go even to the extent of saying even if we reach peace and agreement, even after that there will be some extremists who may carry out such kind of extremist attacks. We should bear with that."

Kashmir has been at the centre of two of the three wars India and Pakistan have fought since winning independence from Britain in 1947, but relations between South Asia's nuclear rivals are improving since they launched peace talks early last year.

A car bomb exploded on Monday in Pulwama town, south of Indian Kashmir's summer capital of Srinagar, killing at least 14 people and wounding more than 100 in the latest incident of separatist violence in the territory.

Militants have frequently timed attacks in Kashmir to distract attention from diplomatic efforts to address the dispute elsewhere, and Monday's blast occurred while moderate separatist leaders were in the midst of a two-week visit to Pakistan.

NO CONTROL

Hardline separatist groups, who want Pakistan to control Kashmir, have been angered by Musharraf's attempts to reach a compromise with India and by the Pakistan government's apparent support for moderate leaders who want an independent Kashmir.

"We have to find a middle point," Musharraf said, stressing the need for the parties to show a willingness to compromise.

"So we hope that when we start real, serious negotiations, people and groups will be more flexible to a future conclusion." He said he had a vision for self-governance for Kashmir but that independence for the region would be unacceptable to both Pakistan and India.

More than 45,000 people have died in Kashmir since the revolt began against Indian rule in 1989. New Delhi has long accused Pakistan of stoking the rebellion in the mainly Muslim majority region, a charge denied by Islamabad.

"There is nobody who can exercise control on everyone and everything that is happening in Kashmir. I certainly don't hold a whistle which I can blow and every bullet stops being fired," Musharraf told Canberra's National Press Club.

Musharraf reiterated that he believed the best chance for peace lay in the relationship he had developed with Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and underlined the need for a deal to be reached before either leader left office.

"I have told Prime Minister Manmohan Singh that the best timetable is that it must take place within our tenures," Musharraf told the press club.

The term of Musharraf, who seized power in a bloodless coup in 1999 and later became president, runs until 2007. India is due to go to the polls in 2009.

Reuters - Thomson Reuters Foundation
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