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'Good Will' Conference Aims to Accelerate India-Pakistan Peace Process - 2003-08-10

Lawmakers and intellectuals from India and Pakistan are attending a two-day goodwill conference in Islamabad. The conference heard strong calls for an end to conflict between South Asia's nuclear-armed neighbors.

The conference was organized by prominent journalism groups in India and Pakistan and is being attended by more than 100 delegates from the two countries.

Participants hope the meeting will give momentum to the peace process started by their governments in April.

The conference was opened with a message from Indian Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee, who called for an end to bloodshed between India and Pakistan. Mr. Vajpayee's message was read by an Indian delegate.

"Cooperation rather than confrontation is the answer to our common problems of development and poverty alleviation. Violence and bloodshed cannot provide any enduring solutions. We can live together only if we let others live. India and Pakistan should heed these winds of change in today's world. We should not defy logic and distort reality to avoid mutually beneficial cooperation," Mr. Vajpayee said.

Speakers from both countries called for a settlement of the conflict over Kashmir, which is divided between the two and remains the main cause of tension between them. Farooq Leghari, a former Pakistani president and currently a lawmaker of the ruling political alliance, spoke of the need for realism on the part of the two country's leaders.

"It's time that we abhor war. It's time that the leadership of both India and Pakistan fully understand that no military power can resolve the issue of Kashmir. The more we rely on military might to resolve this issue the more problematic it will become," Mr. Leghari said.

Margaret Alva, a member of parliament from India's opposition Congress party, says the conference aims to help pave the way for a deeper dialogue between the two governments.

"Our idea is essentially to break down the barriers of suspicion and mistrust which have grown over the years. After all we have a lot in common. I think that's what we need to emphasize rather than the differences," Ms. Alva said.

The dispute over Kashmir has been the cause of two wars between India and Pakistan, and brought them to the brink of another war last year.

But tensions have eased since April, when Indian Prime Minister Vajpayee offered a hand of friendship to Pakistan. Since then the two countries have restored full diplomatic relations and reopened cross-border bus service.