washingtonpost.com  > World > Special Reports > Kashmir on the Brink

India-Pakistan Talks Encourage Both Sides

By John Lancaster
Washington Post Foreign Service
Monday, April 18, 2005; Page A10

NEW DELHI, April 17 -- After a buoyant round of cricket-watching and diplomacy, the leaders of India and Pakistan agreed Sunday to accelerate measures aimed at promoting trade and normal relations and hinted at a narrowing of their differences on the volatile issue of Kashmir.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Gen. Pervez Musharraf, Pakistan's president, met in the Indian capital for two hours Sunday after watching the opening of a cricket match between the Indian and Pakistani national teams that Pakistan later won.

Gen. Pervez Musharraf, Pakistan's president, salutes while Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh waves to spectators at a cricket match. (Aman Sharma -- AP)

_____India - Pakistan Talks_____
Pakistani President Visits India (The Washington Post, Apr 17, 2005)
Musharraf Mixes Cricket With Peace Talks (Reuters, Apr 16, 2005)
Kashmir Bus Link Boosts Hopes (The Washington Post, Apr 8, 2005)
Special Report: India - Pakistan
Primer: The Conflict in Kashmir

Both leaders said they were greatly pleased with the outcome of the summit.

"I want to say that I am happy that the talks were held in a positive atmosphere and with an optimistic note," Musharraf told reporters. "In my view there was progress on all issues."

As predicted, the two governments made no announcements of progress on Kashmir, the cause of two wars between them, and concentrated instead confidence-building measures of the sort they have pursued since starting a peace process in January 2004. Singh reiterated India's position that the borders of the disputed province will not be redrawn.

But Pakistani officials said Musharraf was pleased with Singh's assurances that India was committed to resolving the matter, even in the absence of a firm timetable for doing so.

That could represent significant progress, analysts said, because it indicates that Pakistan is no longer insisting on a quick resolution of the Kashmir dispute as a precondition for continued movement toward normal relations with India.

"After today's meeting the president is more convinced that Prime Minister Singh is committed to working with him for the resolution of the Kashmir crisis," said a senior aide to Musharraf, who spoke on condition of anonymity. "We fully understand his position when he asks for patience on this subject."

Building on previous initiatives, they agreed to set up a joint business council, complete a new rail link, move forward with technical discussions on a water dispute involving a new dam in the Indian side of Kashmir and accelerate efforts to wind down a military confrontation on the Siachen Glacier in the Himalayas, Indian officials said.

They also discussed ways to further open the de facto border, called the Line of Control, which divides mostly Muslim Kashmir between India and Pakistan. With great fanfare on April 7, the two governments kicked off a new bus route across Kashmir that is aimed at reuniting families separated by more than a half-century of strife. Islamic separatist guerrillas have vowed to disrupt the service. The two sides were expected to issue a joint statement Monday spelling out the new confidence-building measures in greater detail and perhaps unveiling some new ones.

"The positive and forward-looking atmosphere which was evident on the eve of the visit was maintained throughout the talks," Shyam Saran, the Indian foreign secretary, told reporters at a briefing Sunday afternoon.

Musharraf, who was born in New Delhi before the partition of the subcontinent, hadn't visited India since 2001, when he attended a summit with Singh's predecessor, Atal Bihari Vajpayee. That summit foundered on the question of Kashmir. Months later, the two countries nearly went to war after India blamed Pakistan for terrorist attacks on Indian territory. At the beginning of the peace process last year, Pakistani officials expressed reluctance to move too quickly on confidence-building measures, asserting that normal relations would not be possible without tangible progress on the "core issue" of Kashmir.

They have since softened that line. "People-to-people" exchanges, especially those involving cricket, have proved immensely popular on both sides of the border.

At the same time, India has repeatedly ruled out any reapportionment of territory in resolving the Kashmir dispute, a position reiterated by Singh on Sunday.

Special correspondent Kamran Khan contributed to this report.

© 2005 The Washington Post Company