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India-Pakistan Talks Raise Hopes for Peaceful Future


An agreement between India and Pakistan on a road map for future talks has been hailed around the world as an encouraging sign the two nations are ready to put years of tensions behind them. But that enthusiasm is also tempered by warnings that most of the work towards peace has yet to be done.

Indian newspapers have applauded this week's India-Pakistan agreement to set a timetable for discussions on easing years of disputes between the two nations.

The English-language paper, The Hindu, and the Indian Express praised the country's leaders for their new positive attitude toward peace.

On Wednesday in Islamabad, India and Pakistan announced they had agreed on a "road map" outlining a series of future meetings between them. The first, planned for May or June, is expected to focus on how to resolve their dispute over Kashmir - a border region which both sides claim as their own. Officials are to meet again in July for discussions on other sensitive issues, including nuclear proliferation and terrorism.

India and Pakistan severed ties in 2001, after militants attacked the Indian Parliament. New Delhi accused Islamabad of involvement in the incident, charges it denies.

Some analysts are still cautious; noting the proposed road map only defines the problems, not the solutions. Brahma Chellaney is with the New Delhi-based Center for Policy Dialogue.

"What we saw in Islamabad was not a discussion on issues of substance, but on bureaucratic procedures," he said. "It was smooth sailing essentially because the two sides readily agreed to go back to the format of discussions that was agreed upon in 1997."

There are other potential obstacles. Indian Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee and his Bharatiya Janata Party, or BJP, face an election, now expected in April. Mr. Chellaney warns that some of the good will India has expressed towards Pakistan may be in part a campaign tactic.

"At the moment, it serves him and the BJP well to give the impression to the Indian public that the BJP has achieved a lot in different areas, including in foreign policy," said Mr. Chellaney. "But after the election, that same need will not be there."

The Islamabad talks were the first since Prime Minister Vajpayee and Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf made the surprise announcement in January they agreed to resume peace negotiations.

The decision raised hopes throughout the international community that the nuclear powered rivals could finally start down the path toward full normalization of ties. On Wednesday, the United States and the European Union both welcomed the agreement by India and Pakistan to continue discussions.

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