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India, Pakistan May Resume Talks to Ease Tensions - 2003-04-29

The latest peace overtures from India and Pakistan signal the first easing of tensions since they came close to war last year. Although it is not clear when, or if, talks will take place, analysts say there is hope the rival South Asian nations can move forward on practical issues such as restoring transport links and diplomatic relations.

Pakistani Prime Minister Zafarullah Khan Jamali telephoned his Indian counterpart Atal Behari Vajpayee on Monday and invited him to Pakistan for talks. The Pakistani leader was responding to Mr. Vajpayee's offer early this month to resume talks with Islamabad over several issues, including the fight over Kashmir.

Pakistani Foreign Minister Khurshid Mehmud Kasuri told VOA that dialogue is the only way to resolve differences between the two countries, both of which have nuclear weapons.

"The people generally of the two countries should remember that there have been three wars between them ... and a fourth one will be completely catastrophic for both countries," he said. "So there is really no option but to go for a sustained meaningful and composite dialogue because that is the only way you lower temperatures in the subcontinent."

Mr. Kasuri says that leaders in both countries should stop making negative statements to improve the atmosphere for any talks. The Pakistani foreign minister hopes the Indian prime minister will accept the invitation to visit Pakistan.

"I hope he will do so quickly and if he does come he will receive a warm welcome and we will do all we can to help reducing of tensions between the two countries," said Mr. Kasuri. 'The very fact that he has taken the first call after 18 months to break an impasse between the two countries is a positive development."

So far, however, New Delhi has not responded to the invitation. On Tuesday, India test-fired a short-range missile. But Pakistani officials brushed off the test as merely confirming that missiles are "a reality in South Asia."

Professor Abdul Hameed Nayyar of Islamabad's Sustainable Development Policy Institute says the failure of previous talks between India and Pakistan has hardened their positions on the divided region of Kashmir. But he added that both countries have shown flexibility in the past, once they got to the negotiating table.

"As soon as the talks start you will see that they will stop anchoring themselves on to their hard positions and they will start talking in broader terms, trying to give space to the other party," he said. "This is the beginning, what they should do is to only catch on the positive utterances coming from across the border and ignore negative utterances."

Professor Nayyar says both internal and external pressures could have prompted the overtures from India and Pakistan. He says the United States has consistently urged the two countries to ease tensions and resume a dialogue.

Mr. Nayyar says that as part of those efforts U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage is due to visit India and Pakistan next month.

Domestically, both countries are seeing social pressures arise from having closed transportation links, which makes it difficult for families to visit relatives across the border.

India severed air, bus and train links and downgraded diplomatic ties following an attack on its Parliament in December 2001. New Delhi blamed Pakistan-based Kashmiri separatists for the attack, leading to a 10-month military stand off on the border.

Professor Nayyar said the two sides could try to resume transport and other links to pave the way for discussions on complicated issues such as Kashmir.

"The final settlement of what Pakistan calls a core dispute, the issue of Kashmir, may be something which perhaps will not be achieved so easily, and will be difficult to achieve," he explained. "But then at least the state of tension between the two countries can be reduced tremendously, very quickly, if the two countries start to sit and start to talk to each other."

Kashmir, which is divided into Indian and Pakistani portions, is the major source of tension between India and Pakistan. Both claim the entire region.

New Delhi accuses Islamabad of sponsoring an armed insurgency in the Indian-controlled part of Kashmir, a charge Pakistan denies. Pakistan is seeking implementation of United Nations resolutions that call for a plebiscite to determine Kashmir's future.