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Domestic turmoil may hit peace talks

As both Govts in India and Pak are weakened by local politics, their dialogue is likely to achieve little.

india Updated: Oct 18, 2007 12:15 IST
YP Rajesh

India and Pakistan return to the table for a new series of peace talks on Thursday but with both governments weakened by local politics, their dialogue is likely to achieve little, officials and analysts said.

Top officials of the South Asian rivals will discuss moves to boost trust on conventional and nuclear security issues this week and hold the second meeting of a joint counter-terrorism panel on Monday as part of their larger peace process.

They will negotiate steps to deal with inadvertent border crossings by their nationals, prevent clashes between fishermen and coast guards at sea and review measures in place to reduce the risk of nuclear accidents, the Indian foreign ministry said.

"There may not be any agreements but there will be some forward movement," a senior Indian foreign ministry official, who did not want to be named, told Reuters.

The official said the Indian government's troubles with its communist allies over a controversial nuclear deal with the United States had not hurt the country's overall foreign policy, but added the situation in Pakistan was uncertain.

"I can't say the same about them. It is for them to determine," he said.

Pakistan has witnessed political turmoil for a large part of this year with President Pervez Musharraf battling legal and political challenges amid serious doubts over his future.

Islamist militants have also rallied against his rule and stepped up violent attacks and there is speculation he might invoke emergency powers or martial law if the Supreme Court blocks him from being re-elected as president.

The nuclear-armed neighbours launched peace talks in 2004 after coming close to the brink of their fourth war.

The dialogue has reduced tensions, helped maintain a military truce, led to a fall in militant violence in Jammu and Kashmir -- at the heart of 60 years of hostile relations -- and boosted cultural, sporting and transport links.

India lacking courage?

But it has made slow progress toward resolving the central territorial dispute over Kashmir and failed to end a bitter confrontation over the Siachen glacier in Kashmir. "I don't see any special significance to these talks because the crucial issues like Kashmir and Siachen, they are still unresolved," said Ershad Mahmud of Islamabad's Institute of Policy Studies, referring to the latest dialogue.

However, even though the core issues were not being addressed, talks helped reduce tension and improve ties in other areas, he said, citing the recent opening of the neighbours' land border to trucks.

For a while, it appeared as though the two sides were working towards a breakthrough over Kashmir, examining proposals to give the disputed region some form of autonomy.

But India's caution and Pakistan's impatience over New Delhi's slow response hurt momentum before Musharraf's domestic troubles diverted his focus, analysts said.

Frequent bomb blasts across India, blamed by Indian security officials on Pakistan-based militants and Pakistan's military spy agency, have meant New Delhi continues to view Islamabad with suspicion.

More importantly, by giving in to his communist allies and pausing a landmark nuclear deal with Washington, Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has shown his government did not have the courage to take bold steps over Pakistan, said C Raja Mohan, a Singapore-based Indian strategic affairs expert.