India, Pakistan in talks to nudge peace process
India and Pakistan began talks on Saturday looking for ways to nudge forward a peace process that appears to be running into problems over their half-century dispute over the Kashmir region.
Pakistan fears that India, which considers the whole of Kashmir an integral part of the country, is unwilling to engage in a serious dialogue over the region. Pakistan has repeatedly said progress on Kashmir is key to the peace process.
Shyam Saran, India's top Foreign Ministry official, and his Pakistani counterpart, Riaz Khokhar, shook hands and smiled as they went into talks aiming to prepare the ground for two days of discussions between their foreign ministers beginning on Sunday.
Saturday is Saran's birthday and Khokhar offered him greetings for the day, saying it was auspicious, but the two made no opening remarks.
Earlier, on arrival in New Delhi, Khokhar said the two sides would review progress made in talks on all outstanding issues.
"Our task is a lot simpler, we will review the entire gamut of composite dialogue and prepare the agenda for the foreign ministers' meeting," he said.
The nuclear-armed rivals, who were on the brink of their fourth war in 2002, have said they are committed to pushing forward the eight-month-old process that began with much hope.
Glacier Battle, Bus Link
For the past two months, officials from both sides have held a series of talks on a range of disputes, from Kashmir to a bruising military face-off on the Siachen glacier, high in the Himalayas, and from trade to nuclear security.
But Pakistani political commentators said it was important that India accepted Kashmir as the core issue between them and agreed to a time frame to resolve it.
"It should be remembered that mere dialogue would not solve the problem," Pakistan's The News said in an editorial. "Even an agreement on the time frame for solving the issue can give a new confidence to the entire region."
India has controlled the heart of Kashmir since independence from Britain in 1947 and its claim to the Muslim-majority region is deeply embedded in the national psyche. Pakistan wants Kashmiris to be given the choice over which country to join.
"These are complex issues. The idea is to adopt a realistic and forward-looking approach," an Indian official said.
Indian officials say they have presented 72 proposals to Pakistan for "confidence-building measures" aimed at cementing ties.
Some of these are aimed at making a cease-fire line in Kashmir, known as the Line of Control, "a softer line" -- to allow Kashmiris to cross back and forth more easily and reunite divided families.
One proposal which India is expected to press is a cross-border bus service linking the Indian- and Pakistan-controlled parts of Kashmir.