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India, Pakistan Set to Resume Peace Talks Over Kashmir - 2004-06-25

Indian and Pakistani officials begin talks in New Delhi on Sunday on Kashmir, the disputed region that has embittered relations since the countries gained independence from British rule in 1947. The dialogue is seen as a significant step forward in a peace process, which began last year.

India and Pakistan are coming together to discuss their dispute over Kashmir. It has been three years since a leaders' summit collapsed without progress on the issue, and only two years since the nuclear-armed rivals were on the brink of war.

Both countries claim all of Kashmir, which is divided between them. The territorial dispute has triggered two of their three wars. India also blames Pakistan for sponsoring a violent 15-year Islamic separatist insurgency in Indian Kashmir, a charge Islamabad strongly denies.

But a renewed bid for peace has once again brought them to the negotiating table, with the foreign secretaries leading the two-day talks in the Indian capital.

C. Raja Mohan, a professor at New Delhi's Jawaharlal Nehru University, says the dialogue will lay the groundwork for prolonged negotiations.

"The first round of talks on Kashmir will really be about how to go forward and what are the steps that need to be taken in the immediate term to create the right condition for the discussion of the Kashmir question, which is complex and difficult," he said.

The officials are expected to focus on confidence-building measures, such as troop reduction. New Delhi has deployed tens-of-thousands of soldiers in Indian-administered Kashmir to fight Muslim insurgents.

India's new prime minister, Manmohan Singh, stressed in his first address to the nation this week that his government is committed to a sustained effort to find a solution to Kashmir.

"We recognize that resolution of major issues requires national consensus and accommodation of public sentiment in both countries," he said. "It is self evident that terrorism and violence will cast a dark shadow."

Both countries have shown a new willingness to ease decades of hostility. Last week, Indian and Pakistani officials agreed on new measures to lessen the chance of a nuclear confrontation between them.