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Senior U.S. Diplomat Commends India for Pakistan Peace Effort

May 11, 2003|Chris Kraul and Shankhadeep Choudhury | Special to The Times

NEW DELHI — U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Richard L. Armitage thanked the prime minister of India on Saturday for his peace overture to Pakistan, saying he was hopeful it will lead to neighborly relations between the bitter enemies.

Armitage ended a three-day swing through South Asia here in the Indian capital, where he encouraged officials to follow through on the initiative this month by Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee.

The U.S. diplomat acknowledged that any peace process would be long and painstaking. Both countries agreed this month to reopen diplomatic relations, frozen since 2001.

Vajpayee made the initial move by telling the Indian Parliament that he wanted peace with Pakistan as his political legacy. Pakistan reciprocated by saying it would resume rail, highway and air links as well as cultural and sporting ties.

A summit of the two countries' leaders is expected but has not been scheduled. Bilateral meetings to prepare the way for such a meeting are expected first. The previous two India-Pakistan summits, in 1999 and 2001, ended in failure, partly because not enough groundwork had been done, observers have said.

The two nations have come close to war on at least two occasions since 1998, when both successfully tested nuclear weapons. But they have been enemies since 1947, when Muslim-dominated Pakistan and Hindu-dominant India were carved out of British colonial India and given their independence.

The main issue dividing them is the Himalayan region of Kashmir, which is partitioned between them but which both countries claim in its entirety.

For more than half a century, Pakistan has been calling for a plebiscite so that Kashmiris could decide which country to belong to, while India has blamed Pakistan for inciting ethnic violence and promoting terrorist attacks in the disputed territory.

Armitage has said that he has no concrete proposals or framework for peace talks, that he is only trying to promote a dialogue. On Saturday, he invited India's deputy prime minister, L.K. Advani, to Washington to talk to White House officials.

He also relayed to Indian leaders an assertion made to him by Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf that no terrorist camps are operating near the Indian border and that if any were, they would be "shut down tomorrow."

Several analysts believe the Kashmir dispute may never be settled to both sides' liking and that the two countries should concentrate instead on resolving smaller differences on such matters as water, energy and trade to build trust first.

Since Vajpayee's overture, opposition politicians in India have insisted that Pakistan do more to stop what they claim is a steady flow of terrorists to Kashmir before talks can start. In Pakistan, opposition leaders have warned Prime Minister Mir Zafarullah Khan Jamali not to give up on regaining Kashmiri turf.

India has selected Shiv Shankar Menon as its high commissioner in Pakistan, a choice that was approved by Pakistan on Saturday. The leading contender to be the new Pakistani ambassador to India is believed to be Maleeha Lodhi, a former envoy to the United States.

During a visit here last summer, Armitage played a role in convincing the two countries to step back from the brink of war after a terrorist attack on the Indian Parliament left 14 people dead. Each country had amassed hundreds of thousands of troops along their border.

Reaction to the peace initiative has been positive in the Indian film industry, which has been blocked from screening films in Pakistan. Figures in the industry have said the opening up of Pakistan to Indian films would mean good business and better relations.

"India would have access to Pakistani hearts and minds. The hatred and animosity we have inherited from our fathers won't be passed down to our children," said film director Mahesh Bhatt.

*

Times staff writer Kraul reported from Kabul, Afghanistan, and special correspondent Choudhury from New Delhi. Special correspondent Mubashir Zaidi in Islamabad, Pakistan, contributed to this report.

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