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India-Pakistan Peace Talks Set to Begin in New Delhi - 2004-09-04


Top officials from Pakistan and India will meet in New Delhi Sunday in a fresh attempt to ease tensions and improve bilateral relations.

The Indian and Pakistani foreign ministers meet September 5 and 6 in India's capital, New Delhi.

Both sides say they will discuss a wide of range issues but the fate of divided Kashmir is expected to dominate the talks.

Pakistan wants India to cede control of the mostly Muslim state. India, in turn, accuses Pakistan of supporting separatist Islamic terrorist groups.

Fighting in Kashmir has claimed at least 40,000 lives since 1989. Efforts to resolve the conflict have repeatedly fallen prey to broken promises and violent confrontations between the two nuclear-armed rivals.

Political scientist Raja Mohan of India's Nehru University says the foreign ministers' talks will have to overcome decades of accumulated mistrust.

"The question is now finding a way to assure each other that the basic understanding will be met, that Pakistan will do all it can to stop supporting terrorism and that India will start talking seriously about Kashmir," said Raja Mohan.

These peace talks started last January. Neither side has committed to any major policy changes but confidence in the process is growing.

It is the ministers' first formal meeting since India's new government took office in May. But the two men have talked three times on the sidelines of other conferences and have reportedly established a solid rapport.

Public expectations are running high that this next round of talks could include some significant accomplishments. But Mr. Mohan says any breakthrough is unlikely.

"How do you expect a breakthrough in something that's gone on for 57 years? The thing is to do enough to keep the process going rather than expecting a significant breakthrough," he said.

It is enough, he says, that the negotiations be conducted in good faith and not undermine improving relations.

Political analysts in both countries say basic agreements on side issues such as trade and troop deployments could be reached.

The leaders of the two countries are expected to meet later this year when both attend the United Nations General Assembly in New York City.

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