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India, Pakistan Call Peace Process Irreversible

  • Anjana Pasricha

President Pervez Musharraf, left, shakes hands with Syed Ali Shah Geelani, a representative of All Parties Hurriyat Conference, Kashmir's main separatist alliance
India and Pakistan have pledged to increase cross-border links in the divided territory of Kashmir, saying their peace process is now irreversible.

The leaders of India and Pakistan on Monday outlined a range of measures to open up the heavily militarized Line of Control dividing the disputed Himalayan region of Kashmir.

The measures listed in a joint statement include further travel, trade and cultural links, and more opportunities for contact between divided families by the de facto border.

Coming shortly after the start of the first cross-border bus service in Kashmir in almost 60 years, the new measures are expected to give the peace process fresh momentum.

The statement was issued as Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf ended a three-day visit to New Delhi to watch a cricket match, and meet with Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.

Reading the statement, Mr. Singh said the two countries have a historic opportunity to resolve their disputes. He called the peace process between the two countries "irreversible."

"In this spirit, the two leaders addressed the issue of Jammu and Kashmir and agreed to continue these discussions in a sincere and purposeful and forward-looking manner for a final settlement," said Mr. Singh.

Earlier, talking with Indian newspaper editors, the Pakistani president said the "time is ripe" for the countries to resolve their disputes.

But he warned that the Kashmir issue could erupt if the two countries do not settle their conflicting claims to the territory. The dispute has led to two of their three wars.

"Agreement means nothing in a different environment and different leadership. Therefore we must go for resolution of all disputes and the core dispute of Kashmir," said Mr. Musharraf. "There should be no doubt in anyone's mind. We have to resolve this dispute amicably, to the acceptance of Pakistan, India and the people of Kashmir. "

India has said it will not accept the redrawing of Kashmir's existing boundaries, but wants to create a situation where "borders are irrelevant."

President Musharraf has stressed that the Line of Control cannot be a final solution.

Despite the persisting differences between the two sides, analysts say the tenor of the talks was positive, and the two sides are displaying flexibility in trying to resolve a dispute that has bedeviled their relations for decades.

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