The Indian and Pakistani foreign ministers ended two days of peace talks Monday with promises of more negotiations on trust-building measures but no sign of progress toward resolving their pivotal dispute over the divided Himalayan region of Kashmir.
Indian Foreign Minister Natwar Singh said the two sides had agreed to hold talks on opening passenger rail service between the countries, establishing communication links between coast guards, possible joint energy projects and taking steps to reduce the risk of accidental nuclear or conventional war, among other subjects.
Singh and his Pakistani counterpart, Khurshid Mahmud Kasuri, described themselves as satisfied with the outcome of the two-day stock-taking at a news conference Monday afternoon. The talks were part of a formal peace process that began with a summit in the Pakistani capital of Islamabad in January.
"Diplomacy provides hope, not salvation." Singh said. "Even modest progress is worthy of respect. We have made progress in the past two days. My friend Foreign Minister Kasuri and I have established rapport and mutual trust."
At the same time, the absence of any tangible movement toward resolving the dispute over Kashmir has increased frustration among Pakistani officials, and there were signs Monday that the goodwill surrounding the peace process in its first months may be dissipating.
Singh repeated Indian charges that Pakistan has not fulfilled its pledge to stop Islamic militants from traveling from its territory into the part of Kashmir controlled by India, where the militants have helped fuel a 14-year insurgency that has claimed tens of thousands of civilian lives.
Kasuri said he had restated Pakistan's concerns about human rights abuses by Indian security forces in Jammu and Kashmir, as the state is formally known. And he emphasized that from Pakistan's perspective, resolving differences over Kashmir is crucial to establishing normal relations between the two nuclear-armed powers.
"Regardless of the words we use and the gloss we put, we are all aware of what has been the cause of perpetual tension between our two countries and what has caused three wars between us and a near-war in 2002," Kasuri said.
The dispute over Kashmir dates to 1947, when departing British colonial authorities gave rulers of semi-autonomous states on the subcontinent a choice between joining the new nations of India or Pakistan. Although most Kashmiris are Muslims, Kashmir's maharajah, a Hindu, elected to go with India. Pakistan, which controls a portion of the state, has never accepted that decision.
Since the peace process began, Indian officials have avoided substantive negotiations on Kashmir, arguing instead for confidence-building measures that they say will help ease hostilities and make the issue of Kashmir easier to discuss. Pakistani officials are growing impatient with that approach, saying India is merely buying time.
Their anxiety was fueled by Indian elections this spring that turned out of office the government of Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, a Hindu nationalist who was nonetheless widely respected in Pakistan. The victorious Congress party, which heads the country's new coalition government, is regarded in Pakistan as more wedded to the traditional view in New Delhi that Kashmir is an integral part of India and the state's status cannot be negotiated.
In an interview in Islamabad last month, a senior Pakistani official who meets regularly with Gen. Pervez Musharraf, Pakistan's president, expressed fear that "if everything else is normalized and Kashmir is not addressed, people here will see it as a sellout."