Pakistan, India halt attempt at ending feud Three days of talks fail to bridge difference over Kashmir border dispute

August 01, 1998|By LOS ANGELES TIMES

COLOMBO, Sri Lanka -- Talks between India and Pakistan collapsed yesterday amid disagreements over the disputed region of Kashmir, ending in insults and dashing hopes of a detente between the now-nuclear rivals.

Tariq Altaf, a spokesman for the Pakistani Foreign Ministry, accused India of taking a "rigid and inflexible" position on the Himalayan region claimed by both countries and said there was no reason for the talks to go on.

Indian Foreign Minister K. Raghunath accused Pakistan of sponsoring terrorism and of harboring an unhealthy fixation over Kashmir, saying, "An obsessive focus on a single issue or a one-point agenda is as neurotic for individuals as for nation-states."

The exchange of invective came after three days of talks between India and Pakistan, which have come under intense international pressure to settle their differences since both tested nuclear weapons in May.

The discussions stalled yesterday when the longtime rivals failed to agree on what to talk about. Pakistan wanted to focus on Kashmir and nuclear proliferation, while India wanted to discuss a broader range of issues, such as Pakistan's support for guerrillas in Indian-held Kashmir.

Talks between Indian Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee and his Pakistani counterpart, Nawaz Sharif, began with a brief but cordial meeting Wednesday. The negotiations soured almost immediately. Sharif emerged from a meeting with Vajpayee Thursday to say that they had accomplished "zero."

"Kashmir was the root cause of all the conflict between India and Pakistan," Sharif told a Sri Lankan newspaper, the Island. "We are not here to waste each other's time."

Kashmir, a Muslim-majority area, was ruled by a Hindu king who opted to join India when colonial Britain carved out both nations from its crumbling empire in 1947. India, a predominantly Hindu country, now occupies two-thirds of Kashmir. Pakistan, dominated by Muslims, controls one-third.

Pakistan wants Kashmiris on both sides of the border to vote on which country they would join. India opposes a plebiscite, which is outlined in U.N. resolutions of the 1940s.

The two countries regularly trade artillery fire along the Kashmiri border -- there was another exchange yesterday -- and more than 20,000 people have died since 1989 in the Indian-held portion of the region. In 1948 and 1965, India and Pakistan went to war over Kashmir. The concern now is that if war breaks out again, it could escalate into a nuclear exchange.

Pub Date: 8/01/98

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