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India, Pakistan agree broadly on talks framework
Updated: 2004-02-18 08:53

Nuclear rivals India and Pakistan reached a "broad understanding" on a framework for peace talks Tuesday, 18 months after they almost went to war. 

The agreement came after middle-ranking foreign ministry officials held the first formal talks between the old foes for more than two and a half years, with the dispute over the Himalayan region of Kashmir and nuclear security the top issues.

"A broad understanding was reached on the modalities and timeframe for commencing the composite dialogue," Pakistan's Foreign Ministry said in a statement.

The negotiators met for two days in Islamabad and will submit their recommendations to their foreign secretaries, who will meet in Islamabad Wednesday.

The agreement is expected to revive a "composite dialogue" over eight areas of dispute, a process that ran aground in 1998 and collapsed at a summit in the Indian city of Agra in mid-2001.

State-owned Pakistan Television said the teams had also considered proposals to add two new items to the agenda, without giving details.

"Broadly, we'll carry forward what was agreed in 1998," an Indian official in Islamabad told Reuters.

Under the formula agreed then, foreign secretaries would discuss the Kashmir dispute and "peace and security" -- code for a range of confidence-building measures meant to reduce the risk of nuclear and conventional war.

Other officials would tackle a range of issues, including trade and economic links, people-to-people contacts and disputes over water sharing, maritime boundaries and the Siachen Glacier, the world's highest battlefield.

EU External Relations Commissioner Chris Patten, who is due in Islamabad Wednesday, told Reuters in Kabul he was delighted the talks had started, but added:

"I think if we're sensible, we won't get too excited and won't start expecting early or substantial breakthroughs. I think this is going to be a long process, the negotiators are dealing with some terribly difficult issues."

Pakistan has also pushed for higher level involvement in talks on Kashmir, to maintain the momentum generated by a landmark meeting between Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf and Indian Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee last month.

As the two delegations talked, suspected Muslim rebels shot dead a ruling party activist in Indian Kashmir, the second they have killed in two days, underlining the risks to the peace process from hard-liners on all sides.


Pakistan would like to move as fast as possible, especially on Kashmir. In the past it has accused India of dragging its feet and using talks as a way to sideline the issue. India is likely to move cautiously, at least until elections expected in April.

Pakistani Foreign Minister Khursheed Mehmood Kasuri said the talks should produce a breakthrough before Musharraf stops being army chief by the end of 2004.

"Common sense suggests that these (talks) should not be delayed, particularly in view of our experience from the past when dialogue began and was disrupted because of some reason or the other," he told the Indian newspaper, The Asian Age.

The two sides agreed at a 1999 summit in Lahore, Pakistan, to inform each other about pending missile tests, but there is still much work to be done on improving communications and understanding each other's command and control systems.

Pakistan would also like agreement on maintaining a minimum nuclear capability for deterrence, whereas India says it has other security concerns, including China.

Diplomats and commentators see signs that both sides genuinely want to make a fresh bid for peace and to avoid the pitfalls that have undermined previous peace efforts.

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