India, Pakistan appear ready to open talks after 30 months Kashmir believed likely to top list of issues


NEW DELHI, India -- After nearly 30 months without formal talks, India and Pakistan appear ready to open a new dialogue.

The breakthrough, if it materializes, will have been occasioned by the transfer of power in India to a new government headed by Prime Minister H. D. Deve Gowda.

A conciliatory message to Deve Gowda last week from Pakistan's leader, Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, was followed by a letter from Deve Gowda to Bhutto, released yesterday. In it, he accepted Bhutto's proposal for a resumption of high-level talks, which were suspended in January 1994.

"My government stands ready to work, together with your government, to address all issues of mutual concern," Deve Gowda said, according to a text of his letter that was released by India's foreign ministry. In a message congratulating Deve Gowda released last Monday, Bhutto took a similar approach. "Let us sit across the table and search for a lasting peace," she said.

Deve Gowda proposed a wide-ranging dialogue at the level of foreign secretary, in both countries the top civil service post in the Foreign Ministry. Indian officials said they expected the first meeting to be held within weeks.

A resumption of talks between the two countries has been repeatedly urged on the two governments by U.S. envoys. But the sudden change of mood appeared to have less to do with outside pressures than with a realization by New Delhi and Islamabad that their interests were being hurt by the impasse.

The issue likely to dominate discussions is Kashmir, a disputed territory that has been a flash point in three wars between India and Pakistan.

With as many as half-a-million troops and police officers tied down by a guerrilla war in the two-thirds of Kashmir under Indian rule, New Delhi has been eager for talks with Islamabad, which rules the other third.

Pub Date: 6/10/96

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