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Pakistan to Host South Asian Summit - 2003-07-10


South Asian countries have agreed to hold a regional summit in Pakistan in January. The long-delayed gathering is seen as an opportunity for an informal meeting between leaders from India and Pakistan to discuss their strained relations.

Top foreign ministry representatives from the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) set the summit for January 4 in Islamabad.

The decision was made at a meeting Thursday in Nepal's capital, Kathmandu. The organization's members are Bangladesh, India, Pakistan, Bhutan, the Maldives, Nepal and Sri Lanka.

The government heads will discuss poverty and free-trade problems in South Asia. The meeting was originally planned for early this year, but was postponed because of military tensions between India and Pakistan.

The two rival nations came close to a third war over Kashmir last year, but intense international diplomacy helped defused the military standoff.

Tensions reduced further in April when the two countries announced steps to normalize their strained relations.

Among other things, India and Pakistan have restored diplomatic relations and are reopening road links on Friday. Relations were suspended after an attack on India's Parliament 18 months ago that India blamed on what it called Pakistan-backed Islamic militants.

The two countries plan to open talks to settle the Kashmir dispute and other differences but they have yet to announce dates for such a dialogue. Masood Khan is Pakistan's Foreign Ministry spokesman.

"Our policy is that our doors are open," he said. " We want to work for peace and stability in the region and this is a very good goal. We have been striving for that."

Control over Kashmir is divided between the two countries. New Delhi alleges that Islamabad sends militants across the disputed border to carry out a Muslim insurgency in Indian-controlled Kashmir. That has kept India from resuming official talks with Pakistan.

Islamabad denies the charges, saying no such movement across the border is taking place.

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