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Pakistan PM holds 'very friendly' talks with Indian foreign minister
Updated: 2004-11-23 00:16

India and Pakistan committed themselves to continue dialogue on Kashmir during a meeting between Pakistan Premier Shaukat Aziz and Indian Foreign Minister Natwar Singh described as "very friendly".

"It was a very friendly, positive and forward looking meeting," Indian foreign ministry spokesman Navtej Sarna told reporters soon after the talks had ended on Tuesday.

The tone was in marked contrast to a verbal spat between the leadership of the rival states in the past week when they sniped bitterly at each other over Kashmir, their main point of dispute.

"SAARC issues were discussed. It was felt that although a good start had been made in Islamabad, there was potential for further regional cooperation," Sarna said.

Aziz, who is on a visit of the region as outgoing chairman of the regional South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC), arrived in Delhi mid-afternoon accompanied by six ministers, including railways and petroleum.

"On the bilateral side, both sides felt composite dialogue should continue. Prime Minister Aziz said the delegation he has brought reflects the commitment of Pakistan civil society to this process."

The composite dialogue is the name given to the process in which officials and politicians of the two countries are discussing eight key points of dispute between them, including Kashmir.

The first round of the talks, which began in February, was completed in September while the second round kicks off on November 29.

Aziz is due to meet Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on Wednesday and was scheduled to hold talks with leaders of Kashmir's main separatist alliance, the All Parties Hurriyat Conference, over dinner late Tuesday.

Aziz also met opposition leader Lal Krishan Advani on Tuesday and was due to hold talks with former prime minister Atal Behari Vajpayee who started the current peace process by offering a "hand of friendship" to Pakistan in April last year, ending two years of chill in relations.

Aziz's visit comes in the wake of fresh disagreements between the two nuclear rivals who have fought two of their three wars over Kashmir and came close to a third in 2001 after armed militants attacked the Indian parliament.

In his first official visit to Kashmir last week, Prime Minister Singh rejected redrawing borders as a solution, effectively scuttling a suggestion by Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf that the disputed state could be divided into seven regions -- any one of which could be demilitarised and placed under a United Nations mandate or under joint control or given independence.

In response to Singh's statement Musharraf told AFP in an exclusive interview that the "vibes" from New Delhi were not good.

But Aziz during a visit to Sri Lanka on Monday struck a more conciliatory chord.

"My visit tomorrow will improve the atmosphere of relations between the two countries," Aziz said. "The relations have improved considerably... It is very sportsmanlike across the board."

In an interview with the BBC, he noted that Pakistan and India have in the past year restored air, road and rail links as well as cultural and sports ties including a tour of Pakistan by the Indian cricket team.

"If I had to do a very objective analysis of where we are today versus 12 months ago, I think we are substantially ahead," Aziz said, adding that the main purpose of his visit was "to get the dialogue process moving forward".

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