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Are India, Pakistan on Path to Resolving Kashmir Dispute?

Hopes are running high for the resumption of a serious dialogue between India and Pakistan, and some observers say that pressure by Washington has helped push the two toward new talks. Analysts say quick progress should not be expected, especially on the sensitive issue of Kashmir, which is the major cause of military tension in South Asia.

It is not clear what led to the sudden diplomatic moves towards a thaw in relations between India and Pakistan.

Officials of both countries say no outside pressure was involved. But many observers believe the United States has applied pressure on New Delhi and Islamabad to engage each other.

These observers say the visit to the region this week by Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage is a part of that pressure. Mr. Armitage is expected to discuss the latest developments with officials of the two countries.

It started with Indian Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee's offer to initiate, what he calls, a "decisive" round of discussions with Pakistan. He has also moved to restore full diplomatic ties with Islamabad.

Pakistan's prime minister, Zafarullah Jamali, responded positively to Mr. Vajpayee's gesture, saying he is ready to resume a dialogue about peace and normal relations as soon as possible.

Aitizaz Ahsan is an opposition lawmaker in the lower house of the Pakistani parliament, and a former interior minister. He is one of those who sees outside influence behind the recent moves.

"I think hard lessons have been learned over the years because we have seen to be getting nowhere, war is not an option for either country. I think the hawks are by and large being gradually marginalized, and I think whether we like to admit or not, there has been some third-party intervention with the United States, the European Union, and other friendly countries wanting to persuade both sides to the rationale of peace," Mr. Ahsan said.

Indian Prime Minister Vajpayee has held two failed summits with Pakistan since 1999. Both times the talks deadlocked over the issue of Kashmir.

The issue has strained relations between the two nations for more than 50 years and still has the potential to derail any upcoming talks. Analysts say in order to make future talks successful, both sides need to show they are serious about making progress, and are flexible enough to make necessary compromises.

"I think what is needed is a strong political commitment on the part of the two leaderships, that it is an initiative which has to keep going on, it is a process which should move forward," said Professor Khalida Ghaus, who teaches international relations at the University of Karachi. "They have to put in a lot, they have to open up the minds and show some sort of a flexibility as far as the issues are concerned."

Former Pakistani diplomat Mansoor Alam is a cites a lack of careful preparation for the failure of previous talks, and said the leaders have to learn from past mistakes. "I believe that this time they need to carefully study all the causes and reasons that were responsible for the failure of the previous rounds of negotiations," he said. "It is important to carry out a reality check, and that is that war is no solution, peace is indispensable for both countries' development and progress, that unless we cooperate, the poverty in both countries is going to grow and we will be confronted by some very serious problems like water shortages, population explosion and environmental degradation."

The strained relations have led to huge military expenditures on both sides, money the two governments might have used to improve their economies and alleviate poverty. In recent years, the neighbors have equipped their armies with nuclear weapons, raising fears of a nuclear conflict between them.

Pakistan and India have fought two of their three wars over Kashmir. The majority Muslim region is split between the two countries, and there is an on-going Muslim insurgency in Indian Kashmir aimed at achieving full independence for the region or annexing it to Pakistan.

India alleges that Pakistan is sponsoring the insurgency in Kashmir, which spilled over into a December 2001 armed attack on the Indian parliament building. Following that attack, the two sides rushed a million soldiers to their common border, and a new war was narrowly averted.