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Pak keeps tone warm ahead of talks

President Musharraf calls for "conflict resolution" ahead of a visit by Indian Foreign Minister Pranab Mukherjee.

india Updated: Jan 13, 2007 15:42 IST

Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf called for "conflict resolution" with India ahead of a visit later on Saturday by External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee for talks expected to show that a three-year-old peace process is on track.

Musharraf said relations were currently "harmonious" and the time was ripe for India and Pakistan to move towards resolving core problems, like the Kashmir issue.

"We will achieve results maybe sooner than we expect. If resolve and flexibility is shown by the leadership, we will be able to resolve the disputes, including the Kashmir issue," the official Associated Press of Pakistan quoted Musharraf as telling a group of students on Friday.

"I see hope at the end of tunnel," Musharraf said on the eve of a visit by new Indian Foreign Minister Pranab Mukherjee, the first by an Indian foreign minister in 15 months.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has adopted a similar tone in recent weeks, after a cooling in relations following bomb attacks by Islamist militants on the Indian city of Mumbai last July that killed 186 people.

Indian officials said the perpetrators were linked to a Pakistani militant group and Pakistan's military secret service, but Pakistan has asked for proof.

Singh said last week, however, that he earnestly hoped that relations between the two countries would eventually become good enough to agree on a treaty of peace, security and friendship.

After arriving in Islamabad early Saturday afternoon, Mukherjee was due to meet Musharraf and hold official talks with Pakistani Foreign Minister Khursheed Mehmood Kasuri.

No major announcements are foreseen, but the two sides are likely to reaffirm their commitment to the peace process.

Little progress on Kashmir has been made during the three years of talks, but sports and travel links between the two countries have been restored.

The two old rivals have also exchanged information on their missile arsenals, in order to reduce the risks of a nuclear war.

Having fought three wars since partition and independence from British colonial rule in 1947, Pakistan and India came to the brink of a
fourth in 2002. As both had become nuclear-armed states in 1998 the stakes have become much higher.

Last month, Musharraf repeated an offer for Pakistan to give up its claim on Kashmir if India agreed to soften the border dividing Kashmiris and let them administer their own affairs with oversight from both Islamabad and New Delhi.

Singh didn't respond directly, but he welcomed a phased approach to resolving Kashmir's problems.

Mukherjee will deliver a formal invitation for Pakistan's leaders to attend a summit of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation due in New Delhi in April.

He is also expected to lay ground for Singh's possible visit to Pakistan this year.

First Published: Jan 13, 2007 13:55 IST