India, Pakistan Report Progress in Peace Talks

Ayaz Gul

Pakistan and India have reported progress in their year-long peace process but they remain far apart on ways to resolve their territorial dispute over Kashmir, the cause of two of the three wars between them.

Senior Indian and Pakistani officials began talks in Islamabad Monday in an effort to accelerate their slow-moving peace process launched earlier this year.

In the first of two days of talks, Pakistan's Foreign Secretary Riaz Khokar and his Indian counterpart Shyam Saran exchanged proposals on how to reduce risks of another conventional war and build confidence about nuclear weapons the two countries possess.

Officials from both the countries say the two sides exchanged proposals but agreed these would require further study before any agreement could be reached.

The most contentious issue between India and Pakistan, the divided region of Kashmir, will come under discussion Tuesday. But Indian Foreign Secretary Saran has rule out any quick breakthrough in that dispute.

"If you are looking at an instant solution or if you are looking at a solution that is visible on the horizon, that is not the case at this point in time. Given the complexity of the situation it is difficult to just sit down and find a solution over the next couple of days," he said, speaking to reporters at the end of first round of talks.

Mr. Saran says that both India and Pakistan must sustain their current peace dialogue to try to narrow down their differences in issues like Kashmir.

"If we make it possible for people to interact with each other more, if we make it possible for people from both sides of the border - both sides of the LOC [ceasefire line in Kashmir] - to have greater contact perhaps options, which do not appear visible today perhaps over a period of time options will become more visible," he said.

Pakistan has put forward a broad range of proposals to resolve Kashmir. They include demilitarizing the territory while a compromise is sought over its status, which could include joint control, some form of United Nations control or independence of Kashmir. But India has rejected a redrawing of borders in the disputed region.

Pakistan Foreign Ministry spokesman Masood Khan told a separate news conference that if rigid positions were maintained the dialogue process will not progress. However, he noted the peace talks are helping reduce tensions in the region.

"We have come a long way from that situation that brinkmanship, which everybody feared could escalate to the nuclear level. We have differences of course but we are sitting across the table and we are talking to each other," added Masood Khan.

Pakistan and India came close to another war over Kashmir in 2002. But since then, the two countries have restored diplomatic and sports links. The cease-fire agreement along the military line dividing Kashmir has held for more than a year.

On Monday, India said it will grant visit visas at its land border to Pakistanis over age 65 and under 12 as well as let Pakistanis study in India.

Pakistan also offered relief aid to India after parts of the country were devastated by Sunday's powerful tsunami.



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