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Officials Expect India, Pakistan Will Ease Visa Restrictions - 2004-08-03

Indian and Pakistani officials say they are optimistic they will find ways to ease visa restrictions and increase cross-border travel during talks in the Indian capital New Delhi. The discussions are the latest in a series of steps to ease tensions between the two rivals.

Officials say the main goal of the two-day meeting is to ease visa restrictions between India and Pakistan, allowing people to travel more freely.

Also on the agenda are the issues of maritime boundaries and cultural exchanges, such as showing India's popular "Bollywood" movies in Pakistan.

But some political analysts say the talks, which began Tuesday, will do little to address the main dispute between the two countries: the divided region of Kashmir that each side claims in its entirety.

India charges that Pakistan has supported Muslim militants who have fought a 15-year insurgency in Indian-controlled Kashmir. Despite denials from Pakistan, there are doubts the support has stopped.

"I'm actually not too optimistic when I look at the continuing infiltration of armed extremists from Pakistan into India as well as the level of violence that we are seeing now in the summer in the valley of Kashmir," said Brahma Chellaney of the New Delhi based think-tank, the Center for Policy Research.

Mr. Chellaney says recent violence indicates the insurgents continue to get help from within Pakistan.

He says a more important meeting will be September's talks between India and Pakistan's foreign ministers. The Kashmir issue will be addressed then.

Both India and Pakistan are nuclear powers. They have fought two wars over Kashmir and came close to a third in 2001 - prompting the two nations to cut off most travel and cultural links.

But their stormy relationship has improved dramatically since January, when leaders agreed to renew peace efforts. Since then, bus, train, and air links have been reopened, and some diplomatic ties restored.