The South Asia neighbours announced the dialogue, including key talks on the disputed region of Kashmir, at the end of a three-day meeting between their foreign secretaries on Wednesday.

It was the first time the two countries had come out with a clear schedule for talks and a commitment to resolving outstanding disputes, analysts said.

"It's a breakthrough agreement," analyst Riffat Hussain said.

According to the schedule, the secretaries are to meet again in May or June for talks on Kashmir, followed by talks in July on seven other issues, including terrorism and the Siachen glacier, another disputed area.
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Technical-level meetings on border security, nuclear issues and drugs trafficking were also agreed on, as were meetings in August between the foreign secretaries and foreign ministers of both sides to review overall progress.

"Now there is a specific timeframe and there is a clear effort to have an early closure of the negotiations on some of the key issues," said Hussain, head of Quaid-e-Azam University's strategic studies department in Islamabad.

"There is sufficient basis for optimism because both sides will be pursuing the negotiations in a structured and organised manner"

Riffat Hussain
Head, Strategic Studies department, Quaid-e-Azam University

"There is sufficient basis for optimism because both sides will be pursuing the negotiations in a structured and organised manner," Hussain said.
 
"We will see an accelerated process on all tracks, which will ultimately force both countries to grapple with the thorny issue of Kashmir.

"There will be talks on issues which are of lesser significance for Pakistan, but as long as there is a commencement of dialogue on the core issue of Kashmir, that's fine for Pakistan," he said.

Kashmir

For Pakistan, Kashmir is the root cause of decades of tensions between the two nuclear-armed neighbours, who have fought two wars for the control of the Himalayan state since their independence from Britain in 1947.

Kashmir is claimed by both
Pakistan and India

 

The state is divided between India and Pakistan but claimed in entirety by both.

Soon after Wednesday's agreement, Pakistan's President Pervez Musharraf told an assembly of Muslim clerics that a peaceful solution of the Kashmir dispute was essential for peace in South Asia.
 
Musharraf and Indian Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee agreed to start the dialogue process last month, drawing a line under several years of tense relations which included a major military battle in Kashmir in 1999 and a military build-up in 2002 which brought the two countries close to nuclear war.

Cautious

Political commentator Hasan Askari said the two sides were still being cautious but the scheduling of a meeting between the two foreign ministers in August was significant, indicating that they were serious about achieving results.

"It suggests that the talks at technical and official levels would be held for producing some results," Askari said.   

"There seems to be a realisation on the Indian side that the insurgency in Kashmir cannot be controlled only by use of coercion and force"

Hasan Askari
Political commentator

Askari, former head of the political science department at the prestigious Punjab University, said there had been a lot of "advice, if not pressure" from the international community on both India and Pakistan to settle their disputes.

He added: "There seems to be a realisation on the Indian side that the insurgency in Kashmir cannot be controlled only by use of coercion and force".

"And there is a realisation on the Pakistan side also that support to militancy in Kashmir under Indian control is becoming counter-productive and it is producing extremely negative fallout on the domestic situation."

He believed the two governments would over the next six months "prepare public opinion for a compromise solution" on Kashmir.