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India, Pakistan Close 'Friendly Talks'

Pakistani Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz is concluding a two-day trip to India, where he discussed a number of topics, including the disputed region of Kashmir, the main issue dividing the two nations. Both sides say they remain committed to the peace process, although, as expected, the talks produced no new developments.

Both Indian and Pakistani officials say the two days of meetings will contribute to efforts to bridge their differences over the disputed region of Kashmir.

Shyam Sarin is India's foreign secretary.

"The way we look at it, the confidence-building process is not a deflection from the Jammu and Kashmir issue," he said. "In fact, it is integral to seeking a solution to the complex problem of Jammu and Kashmir."

Pakistani Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz met Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh Wednesday as part of a region-wide trip to discuss economic issues. They also discussed Kashmir, the border region that each nation claims.

India and Pakistan have fought two wars over Kashmir, and the dispute has hindered regional trade and development plans.

Officials say discussions specifically on the Kashmir issue, including the opening a new cross-border bus-route, will take place next month.

In recent weeks, both India and Pakistan have expressed a renewed willingness to get past the impasse over Kashmir.

Last week, Mr. Singh apparently dismissed a suggestion from Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf to redraw the line dividing Kashmir between India and Pakistan as an interim measure toward resolving the issue.

Mr. Singh's response reportedly disappointed President Musharraf. But Prime Minister Aziz insisted the president's suggestion was meant as a starting point for debate - and Mr. Singh's statement caused no offense.

"The discussions and options listed or discussed by the president of Pakistan were merely as a basis of discussion within Pakistan to cause a debate on the issue of Jammu and Kashmir," he said. "No proposals were ever presented to India and no reaction was expected from India."

No major breakthroughs were expected during Mr. Aziz's trip, and none were announced.

The visit had been billed as another step in a peace dialogue that began last year, when India and Pakistan launched a series of meetings to implement new measures to help permanently resolve the Kashmir issue.

Since then, the two countries have restored full diplomatic ties and honored a ceasefire in Kashmir. They have also re-opened cross-border transportation and sporting links.

The next round of formal talks is due to take place in December. Prime Minister Singh and President Musharraf are also expected to meet again on the sidelines of a regional economic conference in Bangladesh in January.