After hectic engagements on the sidelines of a regional summit, India and Pakistan have agreed to restart a long-awaited and composite dialogue in February 2004 to resolve all their outstanding issues including the dispute of Kashmir.
Indian Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee, who arrived in Islamabad to attend the three-day 12th summit of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) which ended Tuesday, on Monday held surprisingly an hour-long "courtesy call" with Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf.
However, the details of their meeting were kept secret before Tuesday when the two sides issued a joint statement saying they would start a composite dialogue in February, which means India have dropped its demand that only after Islamabad stops sponsoring "terrorism" against New Delhi, talks with Pakistan can begin.
Pakistani Prime Minister Jamali, who held a brief meeting with Vajpayee on Sunday after the opening ceremony of the SAARC summit, told reporters on Tuesday that "progress on peace with India has been achieved and problems have been put aside."
Commenting on the Vajpayee-Musharraf meeting, Indian Deputy Prime Minister L. K. Advani Tuesday said that from available indications, it appears the meeting was "satisfactory" and up to expectation.
Indian Minister for External Affairs Yashwant Sinha, who accompanied Vajpayee at the SAARC summit, late Tuesday disclosed that Pakistan and India have agreed to hold a "composite dialogue" to resolve all bilateral issues including the issue of Kashmir, saying "Both Pakistan and India have decided to commence the process of composite dialogue in February 2004."
"The resumption of dialogue will lead to peaceful settlement of all issues including the issue of Jammu and Kashmir to the satisfaction of both sides," said Sinha at a press conference while reading a joint statement issued by India and Pakistan.
He noted that Vajpayee and Musharraf agreed during their Monday's meeting that "constructive dialogue would promote progress towards the common objective of peace, security and economic development for our peoples and for our future generations."
"The two leaders are confident that the resumption of the composite dialogue will lead to peaceful settlement of all bilateral issues, including Jammu and Kashmir, to the satisfaction of both sides," said the joint statement without mentioning the procedures of the proposed dialogue.
Meanwhile, Sinha's Pakistani counterpart Khurshid Kasuri confirmed that the composite dialogue will start from early next year.
He said, however, there was no agreement so far over the time frame for the resolution of the Kashmir issue. He pledged more confidence building measures to be taken between the two sides.
The international community including the United States, Russia and China welcomed the engagements between Indian and Pakistani leadership, hoping these moves will help increase the momentum of the ongoing peace process in the sub-continent.
India and Pakistan have speeded up their pace in the past months to normalize their relations which reached a historic low after an terrorist attack outside the Indian parliament in December, 2001.
(Xinhua News Agency January 7, 2004)