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Last Updated: Wednesday, 18 February, 2004, 13:13 GMT
Analysis: Pakistan-India talks
By Soutik Biswas
BBC News Online correspondent in Delhi

Indian troops patrolling along part of the new barbed wire fence in Kashmir
The nations hope the talks will not spark Kashmir violence
It was a low-key, even rather dull start, but the first formal talks in the current rapprochement between India and Pakistan set out a solid timetable for peace.

These nations have had their fingers burned too many times in the past with over-hyped talks - and the subsequent blame game - to get carried away again.

They will be happy that their summit in Islamabad in January followed the expected path and will hope its smooth passage can ward off any extremist violence in Kashmir that might wreck peace prospects.

A series of high-level meetings will begin after the Indian general elections in April, followed by a crucial summit between the foreign ministers of the two countries, probably in August.

Further fillip

Analysts say last month's "talks about talks" may have had no dramatic announcements but they have achieved a firm timetable for the next six months.

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

"The two countries have made very good progress," former Pakistani foreign secretary Tanvir Ahmed Khan told BBC News Online.

"They achieved what they were supposed to, and a structure has been worked out with a timeline for the future."

C Rajamohan, foreign policy analyst and a professor of South Asian studies at Delhi's Jawaharlal Nehru University, said: "The talks went exactly along expected lines. It was the best that could have happened given the situation.

"The timetable for the next round of meetings gives both sides the space and the time they need."

Much can still happen before the resumption of talks in May, but analysts say that even a major terrorist strike, although unsettling, would not easily derail the peace process.

"One cannot rule out violent incidents," said Mr Khan.

"But the ethos of the moment is genuine. There is a friendly atmosphere and sufficient political will on both sides to continue talks."

Pervez Musharraf (L) and Atal Behari Vajpayee
Musharraf (left) and Vajpayee met in Islamabad last month

Dr Rajamohan did not expect an upsurge of violence over the next few months, but added: "India will gain more confidence to go forward if the violence doesn't escalate in the coming months."

Mr Khan said a further fillip could be achieved if there were some movement by the Indian government in Indian-administered Kashmir.

"If there's a reduction in the violence there, and a lowering of Indian security presence and some confidence-building, it would further improve the atmosphere," he said.

New mood

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 in January between Indian Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee and Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf.

That was the culmination of a nine-month thaw in relations, begun when Mr Vajpayee offered a gesture of friendship to Pakistan on a trip to Kashmir.

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