- The Washington Times - Monday, January 5, 2004

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan — Indian Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee and Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf met for the first time in two years yesterday, raising cautious hopes that a recent thaw in tensions between the nuclear-armed rivals would lead to talks about the flash-point region of Kashmir.

The leaders last met in 2001 during a failed summit in India. Since then, relations have been marked by a near-war in 2002, an escalating arms buildup and continuing Indian accusations that Pakistan is supporting terrorist attacks against its more powerful neighbor.

“We should understand the difficulties we face and must find a way out together,” Mr. Vajpayee told reporters before his meeting with Gen. Musharraf.

Officials took pains to avoid revealing what Gen. Musharraf, Mr. Vajpayee and a group of aides said during the 65-minute meeting at the presidential palace.

“The two leaders discussed the positive impact of the recent confidence-building measures and hopes that their momentum would be maintained,” Pakistani Foreign Ministry spokesman Masood Khan said. “I want to make clear that I have not revealed the content of their discussions, only the context in which they were held.”

“Both leaders welcomed the recent steps toward the normalization,” Indian Foreign Minister Yashwant Sinha said.

There were, however, hints at broader cooperation. India’s national-security adviser, Brajesh Mishra, arrived in Islamabad unannounced on Thursday for talks with senior Pakistani military and intelligence officials.

The Musharraf-Vajpayee meeting took place on the sidelines of the regional summit of seven South Asian leaders. Pakistan’s information minister, Sheik Rashid, said Gen. Musharraf and Mr. Vajpayee had agreed to talk again.

There was no public mention of Kashmir, India’s only Muslim-majority state, which India and Pakistan have fought two wars over since 1947.

India accuses Pakistan of supporting Islamic militants responsible for a regular toll of attacks in Indian-administered Kashmir and elsewhere in India.

“For India, Kashmir is an integral part of India,” said Arif Jamal, a Pakistani expert on the Islamic militant movement in Kashmir.

“For Pakistan, it is a jugular vein.”

The current warming began in April, when Mr. Vajpayee said he wanted to give peace one last try.

Gen. Musharraf last month indicated flexibility on Pakistan’s major demand: That India let Kashmiris vote on whether they wish to remain a part of India, join Pakistan or become independent.

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