November 2, 2001

India, Pakistan Talk Peace and Security

The leaders of India and Pakistan held cordial and frank talks in the shadow of a monument to love yesterday, hoping to find a way out of more than 50 years of bitter enmity.

"The talks were held in a very cordial, frank and constructive manner," foreign ministry spokeswoman Nirupama Rao told a news conference after the first session of talks between Indian Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee and Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf.

The two men spoke one-on-one for nearly two hours, stoking speculation among the hundreds of journalists covering the event that the first summit between the nuclear-capable rivals in more than two years had got off to a good start.

Rao gave no indication as to what the two men spoke about, but the summit had been expected to focus on troubled Kashmir, over which India and Pakistan have gone to war twice since gaining independence from Britain in 1947.

Rao said the two leaders would meet again yesterday and again today and that Vajpayee had accepted an invitation to visit Pakistan later this year.

India had made it clear that it wanted to tackle several issues and not just Kashmir at the summit, but Pakistan has underlined its determination to keep the spotlight on the Himalayan territory.

"The legacy of the past is not a happy one," Musharraf told the guests of banquet at the president's palace in New Delhi late on Saturday. "Blood has been spilt; precious lives have been lost. We owe it to our future generations to do our utmost to open a new chapter of goodwill and co-operation."

"I believe there can be no military solution of this dispute. It can and must be resolved peacefully." The president received a red carpet welcome in the Indian capital despite lingering rancour over an undeclared war on the snow-capped peaks of Kargil in Kashmir two years ago for which he was widely blamed - and reviled.

Despite heavy security in Agra, a group of Indians staged a protest there to demand that Pakistan return 54 prisoners of war New Delhi says have been held since the conflict of 1971, which led to the creation of Bangladesh. Pakistan denies holding any prisoners of war.

They also demanded an apology from Musharraf for Kargil.

But the mood was generally upbeat as Vajpayee and Musharraf went into their talks.

"To Agra, with a smile on the face of the general," said the headline across the front of The Indian Express, describing Saturday's inaugural day of Musharraf's visit as "the soft sell" before the hard talking in Agra.

There was mounting speculation that there could be an agreement to pull back troops from the high-altitude battlefront on the Siachen glacier in northern Kashmir where Indian troops are maintained at great expense by air and both sides suffer from the inhospitable climate and terrain.

"Candour eases summit tension," said The Asian Age. But its list of key questions for the summit leaders was whether a process would begin to resolve the Kashmir problem.

Underlining the unrelenting nature of that dispute, there was fresh violence yesterday inside the Indian-controlled part of the territory, where a revolt has raged since 1989.

The Indian army said 10 people had been killed in clashes with separatist guerrillas near the Line of Control, a ceasefire line dividing Indian and Pakistani troops.

Heavy firing across the Line of Control flared for the first time in more than half a year on Friday night, hours before Musharraf's arrival in New Delhi.

Pakistan terms the violence inside Indian-held Kashmir an indigenous rebellion to which it gives only moral support. India accuses Pakistan of aiding those fighting to end Indian control.

Musharraf, risking the annoyance of his hosts, demonstrated Islamabad's traditional position that the future of Kashmir should be decided by a referendum among Kashmiris by meeting separatist leaders privately in New Delhi on Saturday.

Since both countries demonstrated their ability to build nuclear weapons three years ago, international concerns about conflict in an area holding a fifth of the world's population have deepened.

(China Daily 07/16/2001)

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