Tue, Jun 29, 2004 - Page 5 News List

India-Pakistan talks end on high note

VIEWS EXCHANGED With 40,000 already dead in the conflict over Kashmir, the two sides vowed a `sustained and serious dialogue' toward a peaceful final settlement


India and Pakistan pledged yesterday to hold a dialogue for a final settlement of their dispute over Kashmir after the nuclear-armed neighbors held their first formal talks in three years.

The two sides said they had made progress since a tentative peace process began last year, but as expected no major breakthrough was announced on Kashmir, a 50-year-old conflict that has sparked two wars and killed 40,000 people.

"They held a detailed exchange of views on Jammu and Kashmir, and agreed to continue the sustained and serious dialogue to find a peaceful negotiated final settlement," a joint statement said after the talks between the countries' top foreign ministry officials.

The neighbors who were on the brink of war in 2002 said they would restore full staffing at their respective embassies, re-open consulates in Bombay and Karachi, release each other's imprisoned fishermen and finalize a pact to notify the other side of missile tests.

The talks in New Delhi between Indian Foreign Secretary Shashank and his Pakistani counterpart, Riaz Khokhar, were the first on Kashmir since a failed 2001 summit between the two countries' leaders.

"The talks have begun positively; it's a good beginning ... We have to move forward and we will go forward," Indian Foreign Ministry spokesman Navtej Sarna said.

The two sides will hold talks next month or in August on a range of other issues that plague bilateral ties, including the military standoff on the Siachen Glacier, he said.

The foreign ministers of the two countries are expected to meet later in August to review progress on a peace process that is seen to be gathering momentum.

The New Delhi meeting ended early to allow Khokhar to return home a day early. Indian media said this was due to Saturday's resignation of Pakistan Prime Minister Zafarullah Khan Jamali.

Jamali's resignation was not expected to affect on the peace process as Pakistan's military ruler, Pervez Musharraf, is seen to be in direct control of foreign policy.

The talks between Shashank and Khokhar were part of a renewed bid for peace launched by the two countries after they came close to a third war in Kashmir in 2002.

Analysts had not expected the two-day talks to produce a quick fix to the dispute but rather to give New Delhi and Islamabad an opportunity to understand each other's stance and move forward.

"It is like two porcupines getting to know each other. They should try to ensure the quills do not get in the way," said Uday Bhaskar of New Delhi's Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses.

"It would be a mistake to expect a breakthrough in one set of talks on Kashmir. This is not one-day cricket. This is about two states who have fought wars over Kashmir," he added.

India, which rules 45 percent of Kashmir, considers the whole of the Muslim-majority region part of its territory. Pakistan, which holds a third of Kashmir, has traditionally sought the implementation of UN resolutions for a plebiscite to decide whether it should be included in India or Pakistan.

Musharraf said in December that Pakistan was prepared to consider a compromise.

India accuses Pakistan of arming and training Muslim separatist militants in Kashmir who have been fighting New Delhi's rule since 1989.

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