གཟའ་ཟླ་བ། ༢༠༢༤/༠༥/༢༠

India, Pakistan Prime Ministers to Discuss Kashmir  - 2004-11-21

The prime ministers of India and Pakistan will meet Tuesday in the Indian capital, New Delhi, to prepare for a second round of peace talks this month over the long-disputed region of Kashmir.

Pakistani Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz says the disputed territory of Kashmir will be high on the agenda when he meets with his Indian counterpart, Manmohan Singh.

"We obviously expect to have substantive dialogue on bilateral issues, including the issue of Jammu and Kashmir," he said.

Both India and Pakistan claim the mountainous territory of Kashmir, which is currently divided between them. It has been the reason they fought two major wars and several skirmishes in the past 50 years.

This year they have stepped up dialogue to try to resolve the dispute. In fact, last month Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf outlined some new proposals for resolving the dispute, including demilitarizing the region and dropping Pakistan's demand for Kashmir's mostly Muslim population to vote on its status.

After a series of such overtures, old problems seem to have cropped up again when Mr. Singh, who made his inaugural visit to Kashmir, ruled out any border changes, despite starting to cut Indian troops stationed in divided territory.

His firm border stance again drew criticism from Pakistan's President Pervez Musharraf Saturday who accused the Indian leadership of making what he called negative statements that are counter-productive to peace.

"We would like to move forward. We would like to meet India halfway. [But] we will not move all the way," said Mr. Musharraf. "We will leave our position when India leaves its position, never unilaterally."

Prime Minister Aziz's visit to India is part of a tour of nations in the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation, known as SAARC.

On Sunday in Islamabad, Mr. Aziz told reporters that keeping the peace process with India going is vital for the entire region.

"The relations between Pakistan and India affect the effectiveness of SAARC. So, to the extent our bilateral relations make further progress, SAARC can be made more effective," he stated.

Critics blame tensions between India and Pakistan for the slow economic progress and increasing poverty in the SAARC nations, which also include Sri Lanka, Bhutan, Nepal, the Maldives and Bangladesh.

A second round of peace talks between senior Indian and Pakistani officials will begin later this month. Besides Kashmir, the two nuclear-capable rival nations are discussing ways to reduce chances of a nuclear conflict between them and to enhance bilateral trade relations.