India, Pakistan Talks May Be Hampered by Divisions in Islamabad
May 19, 2008
India and Pakistan revive their stalled peace process this week with chances of progress on issues such as Kashmir and terrorism hampered by political divisions within Pakistan's coalition government.

The talks, starting tomorrow in Islamabad, are the first since multiparty democracy was restored in Pakistan in general elections in February. India wants to discuss a shooting incident last week in Kashmir and controlling terrorism after bomb attacks killed 63 people in its northern city of Jaipur on May 13.

``I do not see any forward movement as far as the essentials such as terrorism and Kashmir are concerned,'' said Satish Kumar, former professor of Diplomatic Studies at the New Delhi-based Jawaharlal Nehru University. ``It's difficult to expect the new Pakistan government to be helpful because they are saddled with their own internal problems.''

The nuclear-armed South Asian neighbors began improving relations in April 2003 after they came close to fighting a fourth war the previous year. Pakistan's government is in disarray after nine ministers withdrew from the Cabinet last week when the main coalition partners failed to agree on how to reinstate judges fired by President Pervez Musharraf.

Talks were stalled last year because of political turmoil in Pakistan when Musharraf imposed emergency rule in November. The opposition parties that won February's elections and formed a government disagree on whether to remove Musharraf from office, a dispute that is undermining Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gillani's eight-week-old administration.

``Progress Review``

Indian Foreign Minister Pranab Mukherjee visits Islamabad May 21 for talks with his Pakistani counterpart Makhdoom Shah Mahmood Qureshi, a day after the foreign secretaries of the two nations meet to review progress in the peace process.

Discussions cover eight issues including Kashmir, peace and security, terrorism, economic and commercial cooperation.

Kashmir, the Himalayan region claimed by both countries, caused two of the three wars they have fought since 1947. A 19- year-old insurgency in Kashmir has killed about 50,000 people.

Pakistan denies Indian allegations it provides support for separatists in Jammu and Kashmir, India's only Muslim-majority state. More than a dozen guerrilla groups have been fighting since 1989 for Jammu and Kashmir's independence from India or its merger with Pakistan.

``Truce Violation``

India will raise a violation of its 2003 cease-fire with Pakistan in Kashmir after a ``worrisome'' shooting incident across the line dividing the territory, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said on May 14. Pakistan's military denied troops opened fire on an Indian bunker in Kashmir.

India will ``certainly'' raise the issue of terrorism after the Jaipur attacks, Indian Foreign Secretary Shivshankar Menon said, according to a Ministry of External Affairs statement. ``The stopping of cross-border terrorism is avery high priority.''

Nine bombs exploded on May 13 in six locations in the old walled city of Jaipur. Indian police blamed terrorists for the blasts. The blasts were partly aimed at destabilizing ties with Pakistan, Singh told the Hindu newspaper May 18.

Terrorism is a ``common threat'' and both countries have made progress during the past four years and ``we hope to make further progress,'' Pakistan's Foreign Ministry spokesman Mohammad Sadiq said in a statement.

``Gas Pipeline``

The countries are expected to make progress on a joint gas pipeline project with Iran. ``There will be some movement on the Iran-Pakistan-India pipeline because India and Pakistan have high stakes in that,'' Kumar said. ``I don't see any hurdle in that.''

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad on April 29 said ministers from his country, India and Pakistan will discuss an agreement on the 2,100-kilometer (1,300-mile) pipeline within 45 days and present it to the leaders of the three nations.

````Talks won't make headway right away,'' said Ishtiaq Ahmed, a political scientist at Quaid-i-Azam University in Islamabad. ``India won't be keen on putting signatures to any accord or confidence-building measures given the new government in Pakistan is still engulfed in political instability and the situation may change in four to five months.'' ``

A fourth round of talks held under the process known as the ``composite dialogue'' ended on March 13, 2007. Since the start of the discussions in June 2004, India and Pakistan have set up five bus services and two train links and released civilian prisoners and fishermen in each other's custody.

``Nuclear Risk``

Both nations have put in place an accord on nuclear risk reduction, pre-notification on testing of ballistic missiles and hotlines between the coast guards and foreign secretaries. ``If anyone expects anything major to emerge they are being over-optimistic,'' said Vikram Sood, former director of India's Research and Analysis Wing, the country's foreign intelligence agency. ``It will be a long hard grind.''

The key to the dispute remains Kashmir, Sood said. ``For Pakistan, Kashmir has become a core issue for its survival, in a way,'' he said. ``For India, it symbolizes the nation's secular status. There is a lot of divergence.''

Differences also persist over the control of the Siachen glacier in the Himalayas and the Sir Creek maritime borders.

``A major difference in the new round of talks is that, earlier, one man was taking decisions from Pakistan's side, now we have a parliament,'' Ahmed said.

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