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Kashmir Problem Will Not Block Progress in Talks With India, Pakistan says - 2004-09-02


The foreign ministers of Pakistan and India meet for talks, beginning Sunday, to review the two countries' peace process and set the ground for a new round of negotiations. Pakistanis expect disagreements coming up, but say they should not block more positive progress.

On the surface, the Indo-Pakistani peace talks, which began in January, appear well on track to resolving major issues between the longtime rival neighbors.

A cease-fire in the disputed mountain territory of Kashmir is still holding. Negotiations have resulted in rail and air links being reopened, and agreements on fighting terrorism and drug trafficking.

More breakthroughs are expected in the future. The foreign ministers of India and Pakistan will try to set up the next round of peace talks at their meeting in New Delhi Sunday and Monday.

But despite this progress, tensions still exist. Some on the Pakistani side say the pace of the negotiations, particularly in terms of Kashmir, is too slow.

Tanvir Ahmed Khan is a former Pakistani foreign secretary turned political commentator. "I think, in actual practice, there is a certain undercurrent of dissatisfaction, in both the countries, [but] more so in Pakistan," he said. He said that many Pakistanis feel India is stalling on addressing Pakistani concerns over the Kashmir issue.

Pakistan has previously called for the mostly-Muslim population of Kashmir to vote in a plebiscite that would determine sovereignty.

But Islamabad has since said it would entertain other solutions, so long as the final outcome meets with the approval of Kashmiris in both the Indian and Pakistani portions.

The ongoing cease-fire along the Line of Control separating the two sides of Kashmir has allowed India the opportunity to erect a security barrier.

India says the barrier is meant to stop Kashmiri militants on the Pakistani side from crossing over to attack targets on the Indian side.

Some Pakistanis, like Mr. Tanvir, complain that despite its new security fence, India is still blaming Pakistan for allowing such militants to cross into its portion of Kashmir.

"They were rather happy with the situation, but in the last two or three weeks, we have heard voices from India. They have said, 'No, there is still cross-border infiltration. Pakistan is not doing enough,' " he said. Pakistan's Foreign Ministry Spokesman Masood Khan criticizes the recent Indian statements as counterproductive. "It would be in the interest of both countries to lower rhetoric and to seriously pursue negotiations when they take place," he said. Mr. Khan says the Indians should instead pay closer attention to claims of human rights abuses by Indian troops engaged in anti-militant operations in Kashmir.

But the spokesman acknowledges that criticism from the Indian side is not likely to derail overall progress in the peace process, including the foreign ministers' talks. "I think that despite these statements coming from Delhi, we will have dialogue, and this will not negatively impact the dialogue process," he added. Meanwhile, former foreign secretary Tanvir says India remains more concerned with opening up trade between the two countries, and does not want the Kashmir issue to slow down the talks.

He says small bumps along the road to peace are inevitable, and there is little doubt the foreign ministers' meeting will be able to set a framework for a new round of talks to keep the process going.

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