Indian and Pakistani officials on Monday announced several new steps to improve relations, including the reopening of consulates in Bombay and Karachi, after two days of peace talks that also touched on the sensitive question of Kashmir, the divided Himalayan province at the center of the neighboring countries' long conflict.
The officials said they were pleased with the talks, which marked the first direct discussions on Kashmir since leaders of the two nuclear-armed countries initiated a formal peace process in January. They acknowledged, however, that neither side had floated any specific proposals for resolving the Kashmiri dispute.
"There was a very detailed exchange, and at the end of the exchange it was decided that both sides would, as they go down this road, discuss solutions," Masood Khan, the Pakistani Foreign Ministry spokesman, said to reporters Monday afternoon. "Concrete proposals will be discussed in due course."
Indian officials said much of the discussion on Jammu and Kashmir, as the disputed region is formally known, centered on possible short-term measures to improve the lives of ordinary Kashmiris, such as opening a bus route across the cease-fire line, called the Line of Control, that separates Indian and Pakistani forces there.
"Clearly there is a desire on both sides to carry this process forward, and there has been a commitment from the highest level," Navtej Sarna, the Indian Foreign Ministry spokesman, said to reporters. "This is positive. This is a good beginning, a hopeful beginning."
Besides the reopening of consulates, the talks between the Indian foreign secretary, Shashank, who uses only one name, and his Pakistani counterpart, Riaz Khokhar, also produced an agreement to restore their embassies in the two capitals, Islamabad and New Delhi, to full diplomatic strength. In 2002, India and Pakistan downgraded diplomatic relations and mobilized their armies following a December 2001 attack on the grounds of India's Parliament that India blamed on Islamic militants supported by Pakistan.
Since last fall, both countries have taken steps to reduce tensions, such as reestablishing transportation links and sports and cultural ties. In January, Gen. Pervez Musharraf, Pakistan's president, and Atal Bihari Vajpayee, then India's prime minister, agreed to pursue a peaceful settlement on Kashmir and other issues. The agreement came after Musharraf pledged that Pakistan would not permit its territory to be used as a base for militant groups mounting attacks on Indian forces in Kashmir.
Last Sunday, Pakistani and Indian diplomats meeting in New Delhi agreed on a proposal to establish a hotline between their foreign ministries to reduce the threat of accidental nuclear war. During the latest talks, the foreign secretaries approved that step and also agreed to work toward a final accord that would formalize an existing arrangement for advance notification of missile tests.
In addition, they said the two countries would establish a mechanism for immediately returning fishermen who inadvertently strayed across maritime boundaries, rather than holding them for long periods. Subsequent talks between now and August will focus on border and water issues, terrorism, drug trafficking and trade. The Indian and Pakistani foreign ministers are scheduled to meet in late August to assess their overall progress.