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Pakistan, India begin historic talks
Nuclear-armed rivals India and Pakistan have begun their first formal peace talks in more than two and a half years, with their dispute over the Himalayan region of Kashmir high on the agenda.
Last Modified: 16 Feb 2004 07:07 GMT
Disputed Kashmir will top the talks
Nuclear-armed rivals India and Pakistan have begun their first formal peace talks in more than two and a half years, with their dispute over the Himalayan region of Kashmir high on the agenda.

The three days of meetings in Islamabad between foreign ministry officials, which began just after 11:00 am (0600 GMT), are seen as "talks about talks" and will aim to set the agenda and structure for what is likely to be a long-drawn-out dialogue process.
 
On Monday, Jalil Abbas Jilani, director general for South Asia in Pakistan's Foreign Ministry, smiled and shook hands with India's Arun Singh, a joint secretary in their External Affairs ministry, before beginning the meeting.
 
The men will hold two days of talks to pave the way for a meeting on Wednesday between foreign secretaries, the highest-ranking bureaucrats in the rival ministries.
 
Pakistan is keen to show quick progress during the three days of talks, which also are likely to cover confidence-building measures in the nuclear field - especially considering admissions of leaks of nuclear technology by the father of Pakistan's nuclear programme.

The talks will be the first real test of the two sides' willingness to show flexibility on long-entrenched positions, such as the disputed Kashmir region - the cause of two of the countries' three wars since their 1947 independence.

Insurgency

A "line of control" divides Kashmir between India and Pakistan, but both claim the territory in its entirety. More than 65,000 people have been killed in an insurgency that has raged in India-controlled portions of the territory since 1989.
 

"Pakistan is approaching these talks sincerely and earnestly. We hope that India would demonstrate matching reciprocity"

Masud Khan,
Spokesman, Pakistani Foreign Ministry

After coming close to fighting a fourth war in 2002, the two countries have moved to restore transport links and diplomatic ties. Soldiers in November halted cross-border firing in Kashmir.

"Pakistan is approaching these talks sincerely and earnestly. We hope that India would demonstrate matching reciprocity," Pakistani Foreign Ministry spokesman Masud Khan said on Sunday.

The two sides are likely to set up expert groups to discuss a dispute over the flow of water to Pakistan from the Wullar barrage in India's Jammu-Kashmir state and fighting at the world's highest battle ground in Siachen, a glacier located 6000 metres high in the Himalayan territory.

India elections

With national elections due in India in April, no major decisions are expected by Indian Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee's government during this round of talks. However, Vajpayee is expected to stay in power and pursue the peace process.

"We are going to start the process (of negotiations) ... that will mean looking into modalities for the dialogue process and see what meetings should be organized in the next few months to keep up the dialogue on a sustained basis"

Shashank,
Indian Foreign Secretary
 

"We are going to start the process (of negotiations) ... that will mean looking into modalities for the dialogue process and see what meetings should be organized in the next few months to keep up the dialogue on a sustained basis," Indian Foreign Secretary Shashank, who uses only one name, told Press Trust of India in New Delhi.

The Indian delegation, led by Arun Kumar Singh, a joint secretary in the Indian External Affairs Ministry, arrived on Sunday in Pakistan. Singh was to hold talks with his Pakistani counterpart, Jalil Abbas Jilani, on Monday and Tuesday to map out a plan for future dialogue.

The talks are to be wrapped up by Shashank during a meeting on Wednesday with Pakistani Foreign Secretary Riaz Khokar. The officials are the most senior in their ministries below the foreign ministers.

Source:
Agencies
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