India, Pakistan Talks 'Narrow' Kashmir Differences, Menon Says

20 May 2008

Islamabad: India and Pakistan narrowed their differences on Kashmir, the disputed territory delaying their efforts to improve relations, Indian Foreign Secretary Shivshankar Menon said. Talks with Pakistan's Foreign Secretary Salman Bashir in Islamabad yesterday were of 'unparalleled depth, intensity and quality,' Menon said, according to Indian state-run broadcaster Doordarshan. 'We have made progress in dealing with issues that effect the welfare of people' in Kashmir. The ministers were preparing for a new round of peace talks that begins in Islamabad today when Indian Foreign Minister Pranab Mukherjee meets with his Pakistani counterpart Makhdoom Shah Mahmood Qureshi. The nuclear-armed South Asian neighbors began improving relations in April 2003 after they came close to fighting a fourth war the previous year. Kashmir, the Himalayan region claimed by both countries, caused two of the three wars they have fought since 1947. A 19-year-old insurgency in the region has killed about 50,000 people. Pakistan denies Indian allegations it provides support for separatists in Jammu and Kashmir, India's only Muslim-majority state. More than a dozen guerrilla groups have been fighting since 1989 for Jammu and Kashmir's independence from India or its merger with Pakistan. 'What clearly emerged from the meeting is that both sides have the will and determination to carry forward the peace process to move toward full normalization of ties,' the official Associated Press of Pakistan cited Menon as saying. Transport Services The sides discussed increasing bus and truck transport links and easing permits required to cross the line dividing Indian- and Pakistan-controlled Kashmir, he said. The countries are 'much, much closer' to settling other territorial disputes such as control of the Siachen glacier and the Sir Creek maritime border, he said. The talks are the first since multiparty democracy was restored in Pakistan in general elections in February. The peace process stalled last year because of political turmoil in Pakistan when President Pervez Musharraf imposed emergency rule in November. Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani's eight-week-old coalition government, formed by four opposition parties that won the Feb. 18 ballot, is being hampered by a disagreement on whether to remove Musharraf from office. Truce Violations Menon said he raised the issue of two alleged violations of a 2003 cease-fire accord in Kashmir that occurred in the past month when Pakistani soldiers fired across the dividing line. Pakistan has denied there was any 'unprovoked firing.' Increasing cooperation to combat terrorism was also discussed, Menon said, without giving details. 'The stopping of cross-border terrorism is a very high priority,' Menon said before yesterday's meeting. Nine bombs exploded on May 13 in six locations in the old walled city of Jaipur in northern India. The attack was partly aimed at destabilizing ties with Pakistan, Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh told the Hindu newspaper May 18. Terrorism is a 'common threat' and both countries have made progress during the past four years and 'we hope to make further progress,' Pakistan's Foreign Ministry spokesman Mohammad Sadiq said in a statement before the talks began. A fourth round of talks held under the process known as the 'composite dialogue' ended in March 2007. Since the start of the discussions in June 2004, India and Pakistan have set up five bus services and two train links and released civilian prisoners and fishermen in each other's custody. Both nations have put in place an accord on nuclear risk reduction, pre-notification on testing of ballistic missiles and hotlines between the coast guards and foreign secretaries.