- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 16, 2001

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan Pakistan's military ruler met with the Indian ambassador yesterday for the first time since he took power in 1999, a rare high-level contact that signaled a new effort to end a deadlock between the nuclear neighbors over disputed Kashmir.

While neither side budged from its long-standing position on the issue, an Indian external affairs ministry official said the meeting might have opened a door for a way out of the impasse over the resumption of Kashmir peace talks.

Pakistan's Gen. Pervez Musharraf "stressed the need for an early resumption of the dialogue process for the resolution of the Kashmir dispute," the government press office said. Pakistan has repeatedly called for talks with India on the issue.

Indian Ambassador Vijay Nambiar reiterated India's refusal to hold talks unless Pakistan stops arming and training Pakistan-based Islamic militants. They are waging a bloody insurgency in the Indian-ruled portion of Kashmir. Pakistan claims it lends the rebels only moral support.

The meeting was Gen. Musharraf's first with a high-level Indian official since the Pakistan's army seized power in a bloodless coup in October 1999.

The coup came shortly after an 11-week confrontation in Kashmir that killed 1,000 people in the summer of 1999. It threatened to explode into full-scale war between the nations, whose combined population is 1.2 billion.

India and Pakistan have fought three wars since 1947 two of them over Kashmir and the prospect of another has frayed nerves worldwide because the old enemies are also among the world's newest nuclear powers.

In another meeting yesterday aimed to ease tension between India and Pakistan, a group of influential figures from both countries met to look for ways to make sure their animosity never flares into nuclear war.

A seminar on nuclear restraint and risk reduction brought together several former military leaders and retired government officials who are trying to keep the lines of communication open amid the near-silence between their governments.

"We have to establish a degree of trust," said Tanvir Ahmed, a former Pakistani foreign secretary. "In a nuclear war, there is no victor or vanquished. In our case, it is a doomsday scenario."

Since the tests, however, a new shroud of secrecy has enveloped the programs. Neither country knows where the other's program is headed, what weapons its foe possesses or whether it has developed nuclear warheads to marry to its missiles.

Both India and Pakistan have missiles that can reach deep within the other's territory.

While many Western analysts say a full-blown nuclear arms race has yet to materialize, outsiders know less than they would like about the programs. Neither country has signed the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, designed to discourage nuclear proliferation by outlawing nuclear tests.

The most likely flash point would be Kashmir. The Himalayan region is divided between mostly Muslim Pakistan and primarily Hindu India, but each country claims the province in its entirety.

The 11-year-old fighting between Islamic separatists and the government in Indian-ruled Kashmir has killed at least 40,000 people, and human rights groups say the number is nearly twice as high.

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