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Pakistani, Indian Officials Begin Talks on Terrorism - 2004-08-10

Pakistan and India have begun a new round of talks in Islamabad Tuesday to discuss how to fight drug smuggling and terrorism.

The two-days of talks are part of a peace dialogue India and Pakistan began earlier this year to settle the Kashmir dispute and other contentious issues straining bilateral ties.

In the current round, senior security officials from the neighboring countries will talk about how to stop drugs smuggling across their borders and curb terrorism, the main cause of bilateral tensions.

India alleges that Pakistan-based Islamic militants are supporting a separatist Muslim insurgency in its part of Kashmir. Pakistan denies the allegation.

While New Delhi calls the insurgency "cross-border terrorism," Islamabad describes the insurgency as "the freedom struggle."

Pakistan Foreign Ministry spokesman Masood Khan says the talks must find a way to make a distinction.

"We think that there should be a differentiation between freedom fighters and terrorists," he said. "The two countries should explore all the possibilities of removing irritants and coming to an understanding in resolving all issues, including the question of terrorism."

Following the talks on drug smuggling and terrorism, a meeting beginning Wednesday will discuss economic cooperation.

Some observers have said that the two sides are progressing too slowly, but Pakistani spokesman Khan denies this.

"There can't be any instantaneous satisfaction or breakthrough, but the effort is that there should be progress," said Mr. Khan. "This will be a step-by-step process."

Mr. Khan says the foreign ministers of India and Pakistan will meet in New Delhi early next month (September 5-6) to review progress and decide on future action.

The dispute over Kashmir has deadlocked all previous attempts to normalize bilateral relations. The divided region has caused two of the three wars between India and Pakistan and it remains a source of military tensions.

Leaders from both the countries have vowed to make the current peace process successful. On Tuesday, Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf said in a newspaper interview that he will meet Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly meeting in mid-September. It will be the first meeting between the leaders.