Pakistan's prime minister, in New Delhi for a rare meeting with his Indian counterpart amid an often-stumbling peace process, insisted yesterday that "Pakistan wants peace with India."
Pakistani Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz told reporters that he and Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had discussed the peace process and "the core issue" -- their dispute over Kashmir.
"We believe this is an issue we all need to address, and progress on other issues will be made in tandem with progress" over Kashmir, he said after meeting with Singh.
"The dialogue process will continue. Pakistan wants peace with India," he said.
Their discussions came amid repeated cautions that no breakthrough was expected from the meeting, and despite tough positions stated by both sides recently in their decades-old dispute over Kashmir.
Singh welcomed his Pakistani counterpart at a former princely palace, shaking hands and waving to reporters before sitting down for a series of talks.
Aziz arrived in India on Tuesday for an unusual top-level visit between the two countries. Both countries hope it will extend the goodwill gained since January as they have eased visa restrictions, resumed diplomatic contacts, and relaunched air and rail links.
The two prime ministers -- both respected economists -- were expected to focus on trade and business issues along with discussions on Kashmir, the Himalayan region at the heart of the two nations' enmity.
Indian officials have repeatedly warned that they do not expect any breakthrough during the meetings.
A cautious Indian External Affairs Minister Natwar Singh said on Monday: "We want to convey this ... Please accept this as a process, not as an event, and not look at the outcome."
The fragile peace process has seen some difficulties in recent days.
During his visit to the Indian-controlled portion of Kashmir last week, Singh said India would not redraw its international borders. Pakistani President General Pervez Musharraf accused the Indians of inflexibility, causing an unexpected souring of public dialogue between the two sides ahead of yesterday's meeting.
On Tuesday, Aziz met Indian Foreign Minister Natwar Singh and with separatist leaders from the Indian-controlled portion of Kashmir. The Indian Express newspaper reported that the separatists reiterated their demand to be made a party to India-Pakistan talks on Kashmir.
"We want a seat at the peace table," the report quoted Yasin Malik, chairman of Jammu-Kashmir Liberation Front, as saying. "If not, we will launch a nonviolent agitation."
Malik's front is a key constituent of the Hurriyat Conference -- an alliance of political parties and religious groups in Kashmir campaigning for independence, or a merger with Pakistan.
The Hurriyat shuns violence, unlike more than a dozen Islamic guerrilla groups which have been fighting Indian security forces since 1989 for the same cause.
The Indian government has ruled out involving the Hurriyat in talks with Pakistan, but says New Delhi is always ready for separate negotiations.
Aziz's visit is part of a regional tour as the outgoing chairman of the South Asian Association for Regional Coopera-tion. He also met yesterday with Indian Petroleum and Natural Gas Minister Mani Shankar Aiyar to discuss the prospects of a proposed US$3 billion pipeline through Pakistan linking India to Iran's massive gas fields.