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India Summit Extended on Hopeful Note

July 16, 2001|PAUL WATSON | TIMES STAFF WRITER

AGRA, India — The leaders of India and Pakistan agreed to hold a second day of one-on-one talks here today and to meet again at a follow-up summit in Pakistan, raising hopes that the nuclear enemies may be set to begin a serious search for peace.

Indian Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee and Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf were expected to meet alone Sunday for only about 15 minutes, unhindered by Cabinet ministers and officials.

They ended up talking for more than 90 minutes, and then met privately again for about an hour Sunday night, after the Pakistani president and his wife, Sehba, toured the Taj Mahal, a symbol of undying love since the 17th century. The leaders met a third time later Sunday night, along with their delegations.

During the visit to the marble mausoleum, built by Muslim Mogul Emperor Shah Jahan out of devotion to his dead wife, Musharraf said the summit's first full day had been "fruitful."

"The talks were held in a very cordial, frank and constructive manner," according to a brief statement from India's Foreign Ministry, which Pakistani officials approved.

The two nations' foreign ministers met late into the night trying to agree on the text of a joint declaration that met Pakistan's demand for a solution to the Kashmir conflict while addressing India's claims that Pakistan supports "cross-border terrorism."

But amid surprisingly upbeat signals from the talks, Pakistani officials cautioned that it was still too early to say whether Vajpayee and Musharraf would even agree to hold a joint news conference at the end of the summit today, let alone agree on specific steps toward lasting peace.

Officials Meet Late Into Night

A decision on the joint appearance still hadn't been made by the time the two leaders ended Sunday night's meetings, Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Nirupama Rao said. But officials from both delegations met late into the night.

During 54 years of hostility, three wars and 49 summits, Indians and Pakistanis have seen agreements come and go while the key disputes--such as rival claims over the Himalayan territory of Kashmir--remain unresolved.

For a second day in a row, Indian and Pakistani forces on Sunday exchanged small-arms fire at several sites across a cease-fire line in Kashmir. No injuries were reported along the Line of Control, which was created by the 1972 Simla Agreement, one of several past summit accords that have failed to bring peace.

The Indian army claimed it killed at least 34 separatist guerrillas during several clashes within India's Jammu and Kashmir state. A Kashmiri rebel group in turn said it had killed 11 Indian soldiers in two ambushes. Neither claim could be independently verified.

In the run-up to the Agra summit, Musharraf said he wanted an agreed time frame for resolving the conflict over Kashmir, a predominantly Muslim region that has been a source of tension since the two nations broke free in 1947 from British rule. One-third of Kashmir is under the control of Pakistan, which is mainly Muslim; the larger portion is held by mostly-Hindu India.

Political Cost Could Be High for Musharraf

Successive governments in New Delhi have insisted that the whole territory belongs to India. If Musharraf doesn't get a deal to start regular negotiations on Kashmir, the political cost could be high in Pakistan, where Kashmir is a deeply emotional issue.

Months ago, Vajpayee was insisting he would never talk to Musharraf, only to make a surprise summit invitation in May to the Pakistani leader, who as an army general took power in a military coup in October 1999 and appointed himself president last month.

So the brief Foreign Ministry statement issued Saturday suggested that the two leaders were getting along much better than many had expected.

"I think the safe conclusion could be that there is understanding and there is positive movement," the Pakistani military spokesman, Maj. Gen. Rashid Qureshi, told reporters here.

"But there were no surprises," he added.

Musharraf invited Vajpayee to a follow-up summit in Pakistan, and the Indian prime minister accepted, though no date or location was set, Qureshi said.

When reporters asked how to interpret the fact that the two leaders continued talks longer than anticipated, Qureshi said the original schedule had included extra time for a second day of discussions, if needed, "and we are sticking to that."

The leaders, government ministers and bureaucrats held separate meetings on several issues, including what India considers "cross-border terrorism" carried out by Muslim guerrillas in Kashmir with direct support from Pakistan.

Pakistan insists that it provides only moral support to the guerrillas and accuses India of prolonging the conflict by denying Kashmiris a vote on whether the territory should remain part of India, join Pakistan or become independent.

Sushma Swaraj, India's information minister, said Sunday's talks touched on trade relations and the need for nuclear "risk-reduction factors" to help avert a nuclear conflict.

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