The Indian and Pakistani prime ministers have met on the sidelines of a summit of south Asian leaders in Pakistan. The meeting is seen as a sign of improving relations between the two rival countries. The leaders of seven South Asian nations have opened a three-day summit expected to strengthen regional ties. Shortly after the opening speeches at the summit of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation, Pakistani Prime Minister Zafarullah Jamali met privately with Indian Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee.

Pakistani officials said their talks would be "wide-ranging."

The meeting follows speeches by the two men in which both said members of the regional association - known as SAARC - must put aside political differences to reap economic benefits.

Speaking as summit chairman, Prime Minister Jamali told the opening session he hopes the summit will result in a stronger, more united SAARC.

But he added the group still has some way to go to create a regional bloc that can compete globally. "South Asia, which is home to one-fifth of humanity, is out of step with other regions of the world, which were able to [transcend] their differences and disputes and embark on a steady course of economic growth and development," said Mr. Jamali.

His Indian counterpart, Mr. Vajpayee said the SAARC countries should focus on their shared religious, cultural and ethnic bonds to overcome poverty and disease. "We have to change South Asia's image in the world," he said. "We must make the bold transition from mistrust to trust, from discord to concord, and from tension to peace." The nuclear-armed neighbors have fought three wars since their independence in 1947, two of them over the disputed mountain territory of Kashmir. They nearly went to war again in 2002, which forced the cancellation of last year's SAARC summit.

Since last April, however, the two governments have worked to ease tensions, including with a cease-fire along the line that divides Kashmir. Sunday's meeting between the two prime ministers appears to be another step in that process, although it was not clear if they would discuss Kashmir.

Despite the attention being paid to the relationship between India and Pakistan, SAARC's agenda this year is dominated by economic issues, including the creation of a regional free trade area.

In addition to India and Pakistan, the SAARC nations are Bangladesh, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Bhutan and the Maldives.