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Peace Talks Resume in India, Pakistan

STEVE INSKEEP, host:

Two nations that fought three wars and that now have nuclear weapons are talking peace. The foreign ministers of India and Pakistan are holding high-level talks - first time that's happened since a new Pakistani government took office. These talks do come after several years of other discussions between the countries. So now in the Pakistani capital Islamabad, diplomats will talk about getting beyond talking. Here's NPR's South Asia correspondent Philip Reeves.

PHILIP REEVES: India's Foreign Minister Pranab Mukherjee hasn't been to Pakistan for more than a year.

Mr. PRANAB MUKHERJEE (India's Foreign Minister): For the sake of our collective futures, we must work together.

REEVES: So when he arrived to meet his Pakistani counterpart, Shah Mehmood Qureshi, a throng of eager TV crews was awaiting him. Much has changed since Mukherjee's last visit. President Pervez Musharraf has taken a backroom role, at least for now. Power has shifted to a new, democratically elected coalition government dominated by two men: former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and Benazir Bhutto's widower, Asif Zardari. Zardari sounds positive about today's talks.

Mr. ASIF ZARDARI (Leader, Pakistan People's Party): We've always had historic relationships with the (unintelligible) Party and India, and I will always maintain that.

REEVES: India and Pakistan have improved relations considerably since the crisis of six and half years ago when militants attacked India's parliament, and within a few months, the two sides were on the verge of another war. Peacemaking, which began in 2004, has been slow and fraught with mutual suspicion. But the process has survived, and is, in fact, proving surprisingly durable. Last week, more than 60 people were killed in a wave of bombings in the Indian city of Jaipur. In the past, India's blamed Pakistan for instigating such attacks without much convincing evidence. This time, New Delhi did not do so.

Pakistan sweetened the mood ahead of today's meeting by freeing nearly 100 Indian fishermen netted after straying into Pakistani waters in the Arabian Sea. But these talks aren't expected to be easy. Pakistan's ruling coalition is less than two months old, yet it's already proving unstable and at risk of collapse. There's a disagreement between Sharif and Zardari over restoring judges sacked by Musharraf. Sharif's party's cabinet ministers have proffered their resignations, although these haven't been accepted by Pakistan's prime minister. Kanwal Sibal, a former Indian foreign secretary, says the coalition's problems reduce the chances of the talks achieving anything substantial.

Mr. KANWAL SIBAL (Former Indian Foreign Secretary): We're at a time when the Pakistan committee itself is showing signs of instability. It really means that we will not be able to engage in any very serious dialogue on where the two countries are headed for the future. They must first resolve their internal problems.

REEVES: There's another fundamental obstacle. India and Pakistan have improved economic and transport ties, but they haven't resolved their deadlock over Kashmir. This month, there's been a flurry of skirmishing along the line of control dividing Kashmir. And this week, the Indian army said it lost a soldier due to firing from the Pakistani side. Kashmir is on the agenda for these talks. No one's expecting much progress from the politicians, but some musicians are willing to try.

(Soundbite of music)

REEVES: This weekend, Junoon, a band founded by a Pakistani, is to perform on the shores of Dal Lake on Srinagar; that's in Indian-controlled Kashmir. The band's leader told NPR today that the concert's a blatant act of peace mongering.

Philip Reeves, NPR News, New Delhi. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Philip Reeves
Philip Reeves is an award-winning international correspondent covering South America. Previously, he served as NPR's correspondent covering Pakistan, Afghanistan, and India.