Further thaw for India, Pakistan
The prime ministers of the two nuclear powers met Sunday, a first since the nations averted war in 2001.
As the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) opened its summit in the Pakistani capital Islamabad under a dense umbrella of security, the leaders of India and Pakistan made their first cautious moves in more than two years to shake hands and brush off piles of accumulated mistrust.Skip to next paragraph
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Hopes have risen after Indian Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee and his Pakistani counterpart, Mir Zafarullah Jamali, met Sunday for the first time. In an unexpected breakthrough, diplomatic sources have said that Mr. Vajpayee is scheduled to meet with Pakistani leader Pervez Musharraf Monday.
While Pakistani authorities deployed antiaircraft guns and banned all commercial flights into Islamabad to prevent possible terror attacks, Mr. Vajpayee and his Pakistani hosts moved toward resolving their countries' old dispute over the Himalayan region of Kashmir.
But analysts and diplomats are warning that early resolution of the Kashmir conflict is unlikely. Neither New Delhi nor Islamabad seems willing to make any major concessions.
Initial parleys have focused on trade issues, with the framework for an accord on a free-trade zone reached during talks ahead of the summit. Under the agreement, all seven SAARC members - encompassing 20 percent of the world's population - would begin to abolish trade tariffs from 2006. Another focus has been the war against terrorism.
Just three months after the Sept. 11 attacks in the US, relations between Pakistan and India plunged to an all-time low after suspected Kashmiri militants stormed the parliament building in India's capital, New Delhi - an attack India blames on Pakistan.
Air, rail, and road links were closed and both countries withdrew their ambassadors, triggering fears among the international community of yet another war. Washington in particular tried to nudge the two parties to the negotiating table.
"President Bush's administration is already fighting against Al Qaeda in Afghanistan and Saddam loyalists in Iraq. It does not want any problem popping up between Pakistan and India," says Ayesha Agha Siddiqua, a Pakistani defense analyst. "There is a pressure on Vajpayee and General Musharraf to start dialogue to establish a fear-free atmosphere in South Asia. And the present situation is a great opportunity for both of them," she says.
India's prime minister has voiced similar opinions. "The problem is that there have not been sustained talks," said Vajpayee as he started his visit to Pakistan. "Pakistan has been repeating its stance [over Kashmir] and the world has been saying that we should resolve it," he says.
Pakistan's Musharraf has repeatedly called on New Delhi to initiate peace talks and announced several confidence-building measures. After siding with the US in its war against terrorism, he banned Kashmiri militant organizations fighting inside Indian-administered Kashmir against Indian security forces, froze their bank accounts and announced steps to prevent movement of militants into Indian administered Kashmir.