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Talks Between India and Pakistan Yield Positive Results - 2004-06-28

India and Pakistan have agreed to hold a sustained dialogue to solve their long-standing dispute over Kashmir. The two countries will also reopen consulates in their largest cities, the latest sign that relations between the South Asian rivals are improving.

After two days of talks in the Indian capital, Indian and Pakistani officials pledged to seek a peaceful settlement to all bilateral disputes, including Kashmir.

Indian foreign ministry spokesman Navtej Sarna described the talks the beginning of a step-by-step process.

"They held detailed exchanges of views of Jammu and Kashmir and agreed to continue the sustained and serious dialogue to find a peaceful, negotiated, final settlement," he said.

The discussions also produced some concrete results. The two counties decided to restore their respective embassies to full strength, and to reopen consulates in the Indian city of Bombay and the Pakistani city of Karachi. The consulates in these busy port cities will make it easier for Indians and Pakistanis to seek travel visas to each other's country.

Both countries also agreed to release civilian prisoners and fishermen detained for straying into each other's territorial waters.

The delegations discussed other proposals, such as establishing a bus link between the Indian and Pakistani sides of Kashmir, stepping-up trade contacts, and instituting military confidence-building measures.

The participants in the two-day talks were Pakistani Foreign Secretary Riaz Khokhar and his Indian counterpart, Shashank. The two men will hold another round of talks in August prior to a meeting between the two countries' foreign ministers.

Pakistani officials are calling the talks satisfactory. Indian spokesman Mr. Sarna says the dialogue is off to a good start.

"The talks have been very positive," he said. "This is a good beginning, it's a hopeful beginning, and the spirit in which the talks have been held is very positive."

The talks were part of broader efforts launched last year by the two counties to improve their relations. India and Pakistan have fought two wars over Kashmir - the Himalayan territory that is divided between them, but claimed by both.

This is the first time the two have tackled their dispute over Kashmir since their leaders failed to reach an agreement on the issue three years ago.

Both countries have massed tens of thousands of soldiers along the border between the two parts of the region, but a ceasefire has been in place since last November.