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Saturday, 5 January, 2002, 13:55 GMT
Kashmir hopes low despite summit handshake
Pakistani President Musharraf offers Inidan Prime Minister Vajpayee his hand
Musharraf offered India 'a hand of friendship'
By the BBC's Alistair Lawson in Kathmandu

The tentative handshake between the Indian and Pakistani leaders at the regional summit in Nepal was an encouraging gesture, but in reality there is not much ground for optimism.

It was preceded by an offer from the Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf of what he called "a hand of friendship" to India.

Pervez Musharraf
President Musharraf called for dialogue
The conciliatory words at the end of Mr Musharraf's speech - and the handshake with Indian Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee - were warmly applauded by delegates at the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (Saarc) summit.

There has also been widespread approval of Mr Vajpayee's comment in his speech that he was glad to have been offered the "hand of friendship" by Pakistan.

Diplomats now hope that these developments may pave the way for Pakistan and Indian diplomats to hold informal talks on the sidelines of the meeting.

Tensions remain

The enthusiasm which followed the handshake between the two leaders, however, has not changed the fact that the tone of both leaders' speeches did little to add to any spirit of rapprochement.

Mr Vajpayee accused Pakistan of allowing terrorist groups to operate in India.

Delhi is still sticking to its stance that bilateral talks with Pakistan cannot go ahead until more action is taken in this area.

President Musharraf in his speech made a veiled criticism of Delhi's refusal to discuss contentious issues at the summit.

He said that Saarc should not be an organisation where one country was more equal than another.

The president said Pakistan would sign a declaration at the end of the summit which condemns world terrorism, but, alluding to the Kashmir dispute, he pointed out that there was a distinction to be made between a terrorist and a freedom fighter.

Perhaps the best opportunity for talks to take place between the Indian and Pakistani delegations is yet to come, when proceedings move behind closed doors.

See also:

05 Jan 02 | South Asia
India press gloomy on talks
04 Jan 02 | South Asia
South Asia's crippled regional body
04 Jan 02 | Americas
Powell urges Pakistan to do more
03 Jan 02 | South Asia
Thousands flee rivals' war moves
03 Jan 02 | South Asia
Musharraf seeks China's backing
03 Jan 02 | South Asia
Security increased at Taj Mahal
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