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Last Updated: Friday, 13 February, 2004, 15:56 GMT
Analysis: India-Pakistan summit

By Soutik Biswas
BBC News Online correspondent in Delhi

Ceremonial Indian and Pakistani soldiers at the Wagah border, near Lahore
The talks will be part of a slow march to peace, analysts believe
When Indian and Pakistani officials meet in Islamabad on Monday for their first formal talks in nearly three years, it will be the beginning of a long and winding process towards building peace.

Both countries have burnt their fingers badly in the past with overhyped and failed talks, swiftly followed by the familiar and tiresome blame game over the border.

This time, the talks are low-key, more media-managed, even boring - and appear to have a much better chance of pushing forward the peace process.

The nuclear rivals have come a long way since the doomed, over-hyped summit in the northern Indian city of Agra in July 2001 at which they could reach no agreement.

Even the last substantial talks between officials of the two countries, in October 1998, were scuppered by rival nuclear tests and mutual suspicion.

But this attempt at talks comes against a sunnier backdrop - the meeting in Pakistan last month between Indian Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee and Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf.

'Talks about talks'

Still, it would be wise not to expect too much of the Islamabad meetings.

Terrorism and drugs
Trade and economic co-operation
Disputed Himalayan glacier of Siachen
Easing travel restrictions
Indian plans to dam Wullur lake in Kashmir
Disputed border region of Sir Creek marshes, near Gujarat

At the talks in the Pakistani capital, senior civil servants will thrash out the ways, means, venues and dates to discuss an old framework of eight bilateral issues, including the disputed region of Kashmir.

Both nations claim the region and have fought two of their three wars since independence in 1947 over the issue.

"This is really talks about talks," C Rajamohan, foreign policy analyst and a professor of South Asian studies at Delhi's Jawaharlal Nehru University, told BBC News Online.

"There will be nothing much of substance discussed. These are talks on processes rather than on substance."

Former Indian ambassador to Pakistan, G Parthasarathy, adds: "This is really the preliminary round. They will pick up the list of issues and talk about how they need to be structured and set the ground for further negotiations."

Nuclear revelations

The only real significance is that India is keeping to its commitment of taking the peace process forward, despite the complications of a general election looming in the spring.

Pervez Musharraf (L) and Atal Behari Vajpayee
Musharraf (left) and Vajpayee have toned down hostilities

The countries are clearly trying to emerge from the traditional sabre-rattling and rabble-rousing that helps them score brownie points back home.

India has been extremely reserved in its response to the revelations that Pakistani scientist Abdul Qadeer Khan leaked nuclear secrets overseas.

Equally, Islamabad has not reacted with hostility to reports that India is considering postponing a planned cricket tour to Pakistan for security reasons.

"There is a new realism rooted in past realities in both countries," says former Pakistani Foreign Secretary Tanvir Ahmed Khan.

Pakistan, Mr Khan says, has "realised that contentious issues, especially Kashmir, are not amenable to military and violent solutions and that any solution lies in negotiations".

Pakistani analysts say there is also a feeling in the country that it needs to steer clear of extremism and tread a moderate path.

"There are deep concerns in Pakistan about the nature of our society," says Mr Khan.

Indian troops in Kashmir
Kashmir inhibits India's global ambitions, says Tanvir Ahmed Khan

"Pakistanis are anxious about the rise in extremism on their soil and are worried about the threat of being taken over by extremist forces."

On the other hand, he says, India realises that the "insurgency has not gone away in Kashmir despite its continuing military presence and that it is better to talk to Kashmiris and Pakistan to resolve the problem".

Mr Khan feels that India's global ambitions are contributing to its desire for continued engagement with Pakistan.

"India has reached a point in its economic, political and social evolution where it legitimately feels it should have a higher place in the world," he says.

"As long as it is stuck in the quagmire of Kashmir, it inhibits it from chasing its larger, greater destiny."

Analysts believe that by keeping public expectations low, the sides are getting the talks off to the right start.

"Expectations are not high, but there is a greater faith in their success," Mr Khan says.

Clearly, a slow and cautious building of momentum in the dialogue can only help nudge the countries towards peace.

Dr Rajmohan doesn't expect any big successes in Islamabad - or failures.

"It's early days yet. Nothing dramatic is going to happen," he says.

That is possibly the best bet for an improved relationship between the two countries.

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