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Indian Delegation Visits Pakistan in Reconciliation Bid - 2003-08-09


A large delegation of Indian parliamentarians and journalists is visiting Pakistan, as another move toward reconciliation between the two South Asian neighbors. This is the latest in a series of non-official visits between the two countries.

The Indian delegation consists of several senior lawmakers from across India's political spectrum, including the Bharatiya Janata Party, which leads the ruling coalition.

The South Asia Free Media Association is sponsoring the delegation, which also includes journalists.

The Indian lawmakers say they are going with an "open mind" to understand the views of people of Pakistan, and to further a peace process that began in April when Indian Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee offered a hand of friendship to Islamabad.

Margaret Alva, a member of parliament from India's opposition Congress Party, says both Indians and Pakistanis long for peace. Ms. Alva told Indian television the lawmakers want to understand what steps can be taken to reduce tensions.

"There has to be some communication between the two countries, we have to discuss issues, and I think that we are going in a spirit of friendship and lots and lots of people on the other side of the border want that issues are sorted out, there are various areas where we can cooperate, we can work together," she said.

Political analysts say a series of non-official visits from both sides in recent months have given momentum to the peace initiative. Businessmen, journalists and parliamentarians have crossed the border in both directions to learn more about the views of their neighbors.

All visits have underlined the same message: it is time for both sides to put aside their hostile attitudes and move down the path of peace.

On the official level, the two have restored full diplomatic ties. On Saturday, India's new ambassador to Pakistan, Shiv Shankar Menon, presented his credentials to Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf in Islamabad. The Pakistani ambassador to New Delhi took up his post last month.

They have also resumed a bus service to facilitate cross-border travel, which was suspended after an attack on the Indian parliament in December 2001. New Delhi blamed that attack on Pakistan-backed Muslim militants, and the countries went to the brink of war.

India and Pakistan's bitter relations are rooted in their dispute over the region of Kashmir, which is divided between them, but claimed in its entirety by both.

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