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India, Pakistan Open Talks - 2004-06-27

Indian and Pakistan officials have opened talks in New Delhi aimed at tackling their dispute over Kashmir and easing five decades of hostility between them.

Indian foreign ministry spokesman Navtej Sarna says the closed-door talks between the Indian and Pakistani delegations in New Delhi are aimed at building mutual trust and confidence. He called the discussions positive and constructive.

"They discussed the subject of peace and security, including confidence building measures," said Mr. Sarna. "Ideas and proposals were exchanged to take the process further."

The talks conclude Monday. They are led by Pakistani foreign secretary Riaz Khokhar and his Indian counterpart Shashank. Before the talks began, a warm handshake between the officials signaled easing tensions between the two countries. Mr. Khokhar spoke of "sincerity and seriousness" on Islamabad's part, India said it will to everything to carry the dialogue forward.

Officials are revealing little about specific proposals on the table. These are expected to include military and non-military measures such as troop reduction in Kashmir, and steps to increase contacts between people in Indian and Pakistani Kashmir.

The two-day talks are part of a fresh bid begun by the rivals last year to improve their strained relations.

Monday's talks will revolve around the tangled dispute of Kashmir, the Himalayan region that is divided between them but claimed by both. It will be first meeting on the issue since a failed summit between Indian and Pakistani leaders three years ago.

The Kashmir dispute has led to two wars between the rivals, and nearly triggered another conflict two years ago. India also accuses Pakistan of sponsoring a violent separatist insurgency in the portion of Kashmir that New Delhi controls. Islamabad denies supporting militant groups waging the rebellion, but says Kashmiris must be given the right to decide their own future.

Since arriving in New Delhi, Pakistani foreign secretary Riaz Khokhar has met several leaders from Indian Kashmir, who either favor independence for the region or its merger with Pakistan.

Speaking in Islamabad, Pakistani foreign ministry spokesman Masood Khan stressed the need for the two countries to solve the Kashmir dispute.

"It is very clear that you need a peaceful and secure environment in South Asia," he said. "That is the ultimate objective. Both India and Pakistan have to work toward that goal, and we have to have an intense, meaningful engagement to create that environment."

The talks in New Delhi are not expected to produce immediate solutions. But they are intended to lead to a series of negotiations on the Kashmir issue between the two sides, and ease tensions in the region.