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Experts Welcome New Era in Indo-Pakistani Relations

The recent measures announced by India and Pakistan to further the peace process over the divided Himalayan region of Kashmir have raised hopes of an end to a half a century of hostilities. While analysts warn against unrealistic expectations, they say the current approach is a signal shift in the Kashmir debate.

Political experts here are hailing the meeting between the president, Pervez Musharraf, and Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on Sunday as a potential turning point in Pakistan's relations with India.

The two leaders announced a series of measures to improve cross-border ties in Kashmir. The new bus route connecting the divided territory will be expanded. New business and development projects are also planned.

But the Pakistan media are focusing on the broader ramifications of the meeting.

Both leaders called the peace process "irreversible."

Former Pakistani General Talat Masood says that statement, more than any specific deal, is cause for hope. "And in fact, we are looking at a paradigm shift. We are moving towards a cooperative security approach," he said. "I think the borders are becoming borders of cooperation instead of borders of hostility."

Mr. Masood admits there are still countless obstacles to a final solution on Kashmir.

The so-called Line of Control dividing Kashmir remains a major sticking point. India insists the de facto border will remain. President Musharraf says it will have to move, giving Pakistan additional territory.

But many in Pakistan think that President Musharraf will, ultimately, relent.

General Masood says Pakistan is now more committed to its own internal development than waging an unrelenting fight over Kashmir. "Pakistan needs its energy and resources to be focused on things which will help stabilize the country and for Pakistan, Pakistan comes first. Kashmir is important, but not as important as Pakistan," he added.

He says the change in attitude reflects a series of regional and global developments.

Pakistan and India both have nuclear weapons, sharply increasing the stakes in any potential war.

The 2001 terrorist attacks in New York also prompted the United States to push for peace in Kashmir. Pakistan is a key ally in the U.S.-led war on terror but Washington has said Kashmir is a dangerous distraction.

And finally, General Masood says Pakistan has watched India's economy grow and New Delhi emerge as an Asian super power.

So now, he says, it looks like the promise of economic cooperation is outweighing the demands of nationalist sentiment.