India, Pakistan advance peace process by reaching accords on trade and travel

Agreements might help resolve Kashmir dispute

April 18, 2005|By Paul Watson | Paul Watson,LOS ANGELES TIMES

NEW DELHI - India and Pakistan nudged their peace effort forward yesterday with agreements to improve trade and travel links.

"I want to say that I am happy that the talks were held in a positive atmosphere and with an optimistic note," Pakistan's president, Gen. Pervez Musharraf, said after meeting Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh for more than two hours yesterday. "In my view there has been progress on all issues."

In an apparent softening of his position, Musharraf did not publicly repeat his demand for an early solution to the long-running conflict over the divided territory of Jammu and Kashmir. Official accounts of the meeting say Musharraf acknowledged that it would take time to resolve the conflict.

India wants progress on a range of issues to continue building confidence in the peace process before tackling Kashmir, the most difficult problem between the nuclear-armed neighbors. Indian Foreign Secretary Shyam Saran, the top civil servant in the Foreign Ministry, told reporters that improving the tone of relations will help the two countries solve more complex problems in the future.

The current effort to resolve the dispute that started 57 years ago over Jammu and Kashmir formally began in January 2004, when Musharraf and former Indian Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee agreed on the outlines of a step-by-step process. The two countries are in the second stage of the process, in which they are trying to build closer trade and cultural links.

Sovereignty claims

Both countries claim sovereignty over the divided territory, where separatists have been battling security forces since 1989.

Many Kashmiris want an independent state, and Kashmiri leaders are frustrated that they do not have a direct role in talks about their territory's future.

Singh told the Pakistani leader that India would not agree to redraw the country's borders and reminded Musharraf of his commitment to ensure that Pakistani territory was not a base for terrorists.

Indian authorities say there has been a sharp drop in the number of guerrillas infiltrating from Pakistani-controlled territory, but they have not stopped completely. There has been a surge of guerrilla attacks in Indian Kashmir, where about 250 people have died in the insurgency so far this year.

Failed summit

Musharraf's visit was his first since a failed summit in 2001. The Pakistani leader invited opposition leader Lal Krishna Advani, a Hindu hard-liner once accused of sabotaging the 2001 summit, to visit Pakistan this summer.

Advani, who accepted the invitation, said he told Musharraf that continuing distrust was hampering the peace effort.

Singh and Musharraf also exchanged gifts, including birth certificates. Singh was born in what is now Pakistan, and Musharraf was born in New Delhi.

Musharraf's family was uprooted when Britain partitioned the subcontinent in 1947, setting off vicious bloodletting and a flood of refugees. The Kashmir dispute is a bitter legacy of that division.

The Indian leader's family left the western Punjab region of what is now Pakistan in the years before independence.

The Los Angeles Times is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

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