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Last Updated: Monday, 28 June, 2004, 12:57 GMT 13:57 UK
Analysis: Rivals make progress

By Soutik Biswas
BBC News Online correspondent in Delhi

Ceremonial Indian and Pakistani soldiers at the Wagah border, near Lahore
The talks are part of a slow march to peace, analysts believe
A little over a year after former Indian prime minister Atal Behari Vajpayee offered the "hand of friendship" to Pakistan and set the ball rolling towards peace, the two neighbours have made good progress.

Recent talks in Delhi between the foreign secretaries - the first substantive discussions on disputed Kashmir in six years - are a step towards further normalising relations.

Analysts say the meeting lived up to reasonable and realistic expectations.

For one, the talks showed that the recent change of government in India has not adversely impacted on the momentum of the peace initiatives.

Confidence building

The foreign secretaries consolidated on the gains made in the past few weeks by experts from both countries.

C Rajamohan, foreign policy analyst and a professor of South Asian studies at Delhi's Jawaharlal Nehru University, says the latest talks contained "some useful steps towards the normalisation of relations".

"There have been confidence building measures between the two countries in diplomatic relations, nuclear and humanitarian matters. This is good progress," he told BBC News Online.

There is a resolve to come to grips with the Kashmir problem
Former Pakistani foreign secretary Tanvir Ahmed Khan

Once confidence has been built, the talks will have to deal with substantive issues at the heart of the dispute.

On Kashmir, movement way well depend on what future both nations see for the Line of Control, the de-facto border.

The Indian government defends the 1972 Simla agreement, under which the LoC was established. But Pakistan says that the LoC could not be made into a permanent border between the two countries.

A joint statement issued after the latest talks said the two sides had "reiterated... their determination to implement the Simla agreement in letter and spirit".

Analysts say that the two countries need to further clarify their position on the Simla agreement, as they have different views on what it implies.

But there is little doubt that both sides want to move ahead on resolving the most prickly issue bedevilling their relationship.

"There is a resolve to come to grips with the Kashmir problem, and sustain it in the months ahead," former Pakistani foreign secretary Tanvir Ahmed Khan told BBC News Online.

"The idea of representation of Kashmiri people in the [peace] process through indirect consultations now and direct consultations in the future augurs well for both countries."

Trust

The latest talks, which began a day before suspected Islamic militants killed at least 10 people in a village in Indian-administered Kashmir, also point to a maturing of the relationship between Delhi and Islamabad.

KEY ISSUES
Kashmir
Confidence-building
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 fact that the incident was not raised in the talks proved that the extremists are not being able to derail the India-Pakistan peace process," Tanvir Ahmed Khan said.

"It showed a certain minimum level of mutual trust and confidence which was completely lacking between the two countries in the last few years has been reached."

These are early days and progress is slow - nobody expects any dramatic breakthrough between the two countries who have fought two of their three wars since independence in 1947 over Kashmir.

But the "broad regime of confidence building measures" is truly being firmed up, analysts feel.

There are a series of meetings between the experts of the two countries on the six key issues, including terrorism and drug trafficking planned between the third week of July and early August.

The foreign secretaries will meet again in the third week of August to review progress.

More importantly, they will prepare for a meeting of the foreign ministers later in August.


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