But a deal with India on the disputed territory may be tough to sell at home Speculation is mounting in Islamabad that Pakistan could be on the verge of making big concessions to reach a deal with India on the thorny issue of Kashmir. The talk began in the aftermath of the recent meeting between Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf and Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly in New York. Without giving details of their discussion, the two leaders termed the meeting 'historic' and expressed great faith in each other's sincerity in solving various bilateral issues, the most intractable of which is the fate of Kashmir. Once back home, General Musharraf declared that the next few months would be extremely important for a possible breakthrough on major issues. A foreign office spokesman went further, saying that both countries needed to go beyond their 'stated positions' on the question of Kashmir. Pakistan's political classes have welcomed the prospects of a settlement but fear the country may end up sacrificing its principles on Kashmir. Islamabad has long maintained that the Muslim-dominated mountainous region should have become part of Pakistan in 1947, when Pakistan won independence from British rule. Kashmiris, the Pakistan government has previously insisted to India, should be allowed to vote in a referendum to decide where their future lies. The two nuclear-armed nations have gone to war three times and were on a war footing again in 2002 before a gradual easing of tensions. Seen from this perspective, it is difficult to understand what exactly 'going beyond the stated position' means for Pakistan. 'The present government seems to have reached the conclusion that on Kashmir, a plebiscite and international arbitration are out of the question,' said leading political analyst Ayaz Amir. Political pundits say that after pressure from the west succeeded in getting the Musharraf regime to change its Afghan policy of supporting the Taleban regime, moves were now afoot to seek a softening on the issue of Kashmir. 'By taking sides with the international coalition against terror, the present government has long ceased to have a foreign policy of its own and the ongoing talk of a breakthrough over Kashmir is part of the same process,' said retired general and analyst Talat Massod. 'America wants to see the issue resolved in a way that may not necessarily be to Pakistan's liking.' General Musharraf's critics say that there is not much that Pakistan could hope to gain from a deal with India. 'What Kashmir settlement is the Musharraf government talking about unless it boils down to a Pakistani acceptance of the status quo?' said Mr Amir. The dilemma for General Musharraf remains that he is not a popularly elected leader. The vast majority still perceives him as a military dictator. Any bargain on Kashmir that lacks popular support and the backing of major political parties would be too hard to sell.