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Pakistan, India Make Progress in Talks

Peace talks between India and Pakistan have gained momentum in recent months despite a new dispute between nuclear-armed rivals over the construction of a dam in Indian-controlled Kashmir, a top Indian official said Monday. 

The Foreign Ministry official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the dialogue between India and Pakistan, aimed at ending their decades-old hostilities, had gained a "momentum that was unexpected."


He said many people did not expect the peace talks, which started a year ago, to last so long or do so well.


He said officials from both sides have made very good progress in discussing a pipeline that would connect India to Iran's massive gas fields though Pakistan, the resumption of a cross-border bus service in Kashmir and restoration of rail links between the western Indian state of Rajasthan and Pakistan's Sindh Province.


"Progress in the dialogue process has been too fast ... and I think there are some lobbies in Pakistan who want to slow it down," the official said.


His comments came in response to Pakistan's decision to ask the World Bank to appoint a neutral expert to assess India's decision to build the Baglidhar dam on its portion of Kashmir. Pakistan fears the dam will deprive Punjab -- its main agricultural province -- of water for irrigation, and claims it is a violation of a 1960 water-sharing treaty.


Although the World Bank had brokered the treaty, it has ruled out intervening in the dispute. On Saturday, the bank said its only obligation is to appoint a neutral expert, only if evidence shows both sides cannot resolve the issue bilaterally.


But the Indian official said Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh will take up the issue with his Pakistani counterpart, when the two meet on the sidelines of next week's South Asian summit in Dhaka, Bangladesh.


"I think we will find a way out when we talk on this in Dhaka," he said.


Pakistan to propose joint projects


As Indian officials expressed optimism on peace talks, the Financial Times reported yesterday that Pakistan will propose a series of confidence-boosting joint projects with India, which it hopes will pave the way to progress in ending difficulties such as the dispute over Kashmir.


A gas pipeline to connect India with Iran via Pakistan and a move to open banking links were among possible measures that "would improve the atmospherics," Pakistani Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz told the Financial Times in an interview.


The paper quoted Aziz as adding there were "many other possibilities which we want to explore."


Aziz would make the proposals to Singh at the regional summit in Bangladesh.


India and Pakistan have fought three wars since gaining independence from Britain in 1947, two of them over the disputed region Kashmir.


Hopes have been raised in recent months that the nations might be moving towards peace, though progress in the talks has been slow.


(China Daily February 1, 2005)

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