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India, Pakistan Progress an Inch

The nations' foreign secretaries hold their first meeting but take little action. Analysts say a go-slow approach makes the most sense.

June 29, 2004|Nicholas Riccardi | Times Staff Writer

NEW DELHI — The first meeting of the foreign secretaries of nuclear-armed rivals India and Pakistan concluded Monday with warm words of hope for peaceful relations but only limited concrete steps toward progress.

The two governments, which nearly went to war over the Himalayan territory of Kashmir in 2002, released a statement saying they had held detailed discussions about the issue. But a hoped-for bus service between the sections of Kashmir claimed by each country did not materialize.

Instead, the neighbors reiterated a preexisting pledge to notify each other before testing missiles, to open consulates and to beef up embassy staffs.

Both sides said the talks -- between Pakistani Foreign Secretary Riaz Khokhar and his Indian counterpart, Shashank, who goes by one name -- were helpful.

"There is a new spirit of engaging each other consistently and substantively," Pakistani Foreign Ministry spokesman Masood Khan said. "You have to satisfy all the parties. That is the understanding that is emerging very rapidly."

Analysts said they were not surprised at the meager results, adding that incremental negotiations were probably the best approach for the countries, which have fought three wars since their independence from Britain in 1947.

"Immediate results, or something that would lead to a breakthrough, shouldn't be expected and in fact aren't desirable," said Samina Ahmed of the International Crisis Group's Pakistani office. "Anything drastic wouldn't be thought through as well as it should be, and may be more for public consumption."

The discussions between the foreign secretaries, and others last week between nuclear experts for the two nations, also gave two governments in flux a chance to size each other up. India's Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party, which launched the peace talks in 2003, was ousted last month by a coalition led by the Congress Party. Meanwhile, Pakistan's military ruler Saturday demanded and received the resignation of his prime minister and the dissolution of the Cabinet.

"What you're seeing is symbolic gestures that the peace process is making progress, but really each side is just sorting each other out," said Ajay Sahni, executive director of the Institute for Conflict Management in New Delhi.

Sahni said he doubted the talks would succeed because, in his view, the secular democracy of India and the religious, military-led state of Pakistan were inevitable foes. "Eventually," he said, "this whole thing will be decided in a power play."

Others were heartened that the nations were able to discuss the volatile issue of Kashmir with apparent amicability. India accuses Pakistan of funding terrorists who have infiltrated the Indian portion of the region and attacked troops and civilians. Pakistan has denied the charges, and its president, Gen. Pervez Musharraf, says he has taken steps to rein in militants.

The joint statement released by the countries says they are committed to a peaceful solution to the Kashmir problem and hope it occurs "in an atmosphere free from terrorism and violence."

More meetings on technical matters will be held in July and August, before the late-summer meeting of the nations' foreign ministers.

On Monday, Pakistan's foreign secretary brought invitations for India's new president and prime minister, plus Congress Party leader Sonia Gandhi, to visit Pakistan.

"They're serious about doing this," said Proful Bidwai, a prominent Indian journalist and commentator. "I've never seen this kind of seriousness and the resolve to find solutions."

Associated Press contributed to this report.

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