ISLAMABAD, Pakistan (AP) — Nuclear-armed rivals India and
Pakistan began historic meetings yesterday aimed at preparing for a
sustained peace dialogue on Kashmir and other disputes that have
divided the neighbors for decades.

Pakistan is eager to show quick progress during the three days
of talks, which also are likely to cover confidence-building
measures in the nuclear field to avoid an accident.

India and Pakistan last held formal peace talks in July 2001 in
Agra, India.

Pakistan’s President Pervez Musharraf and Indian Prime
Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee agreed to launch the new dialogue
when they met on the sidelines of a South Asian summit in
January.

Jalil Abbas Jilani, a director-general in Pakistan’s
Foreign Ministry, and Arun Kumar Singh, a joint secretary in
India’s External Affairs Ministry, shook hands and smiled
before the start of the meeting. The sides met for nearly two hours
before breaking for lunch.

Singh is leading a four-member Indian team at the talks, the
first real test of the two sides’ willingness to show
flexibility on long-entrenched positions, such as the disputed
Kashmir region.

Pakistani Foreign Ministry spokesman Masood Khan said the
meeting took place in a “cordial atmosphere and constructive
manner.”

“Both sides expressed satisfaction over the progress made
on the first day,” he said.

The two sides suggested dates for future talks addressing eight
issues, including Kashmir, confidence-building measures in the
nuclear field, terrorism and drugs, economic cooperation and a
river dispute, diplomats said. The timetable was expected to be
decided in the next two days.

A “line of control” divides Kashmir between India
and Pakistan, but both claim the Himalayan territory in its
entirety. More than 65,000 people have been killed in an insurgency
that has raged in India-controlled portions of the territory since
1989.

Suspected separatist rebels shot and killed a local politician
yesterday as he stood on a roadside in Srinagar, the summer capital
of India’s Jammu-Kashmir state, police said.

Two police officers nearby raced to the scene and opened fire on
the assailants. One officer was killed and the other wounded as the
attackers retaliated, and the attackers escaped.

In Muzaffarabad, capital of Pakistan-controlled Kashmir, more
than 500 people from a political group seeking Kashmir’s
independence blocked a main street for nearly two hours yesterday
to protest the Pakistan-India talks.

“These negotiations are being held to end the
Kashmiris’ struggle,” said Ghulam Nabi War, a Jammu
Kashmir Liberation Front leader. “The two countries are not
interested in people of Kashmir. They don’t respect their
wishes.”

With national elections due in India in April, no major
decisions are expected by Vajpayee’s government in this round
of talks. The prime minister is expected to stay in power and
pursue the peace process.

“We are going to start the process (of negotiations)
… that will mean looking into modalities for the dialogue
process and see what meetings should be organized in the next few
months to keep up the dialogue on a sustained basis,” Indian
Foreign Secretary Shashank, who uses only one name, told Press
Trust of India in New Delhi.

Singh, who arrived Sunday in Pakistan, and his Pakistani
counterpart were to map out a plan for future dialogue.

The talks are to be wrapped up by Shashank at a meeting tomorrow
with Pakistani Foreign Secretary Riaz Khokar. The officials are the
most senior in their ministries below the foreign ministers.

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