Indian and Pakistani leaders shake hands in New Delhi
B Mathur  /  Reuters
Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, right, and Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf shake after making a joint statement in New Delhi on Monday.
updated 4/18/2005 8:38:03 AM ET 2005-04-18T12:38:03

The peace process between India and Pakistan is now “irreversible,” leaders of the two longtime rival nations said Monday, announcing a series of agreements to increase trade and cross-border travel in Kashmir.

With Pakistani President Gen. Pervez Musharraf standing beside him, Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said the two had agreed to continue talks on the divided region of Kashmir, the heart of decades of disputes, in “a sincere and purposeful manner” until a settlement was found.

Singh, reading from a joint statement, said the two leaders “determined that the peace process was now irreversible.”

The two countries agreed to increase the frequency of a cross-Kashmir bus service that started earlier this month and to identify more places along the Kashmir frontier that could be opened to traffic.

They also agreed to revive a joint commission to boost business ties and to open additional consulates by the end of the year. They also vowed not to allow terrorism to thwart the peace process.

Islamic militants upset
After the summit, separatist militants issued a statement accusing Musharraf of abandoning the cause of the Kashmiri people.

Nuclear standoff“Musharraf has sold out Kashmir for trade and tourism,” said the statement signed by a spokesman for four Islamic rebel groups faxed to The Associated Press, adding that Musharraf had “knelt before India.”

“We will not give up the holy war, Jihad, until Kashmir becomes free,” warned the statement. Its authenticity could not be verified.

At the meeting, the two sides agreed to allow the movement of trucks across their borders, to create a trade group encouraging joint ventures between Indian and Pakistani businesses and to cooperate on meeting both countries’ energy needs.

“Enhanced economic and commercial cooperation would contribute to the well-being of the peoples of the two countries,” Singh said, reading from the statement, adding the two “leading economies of South Asia should work together for greater prosperity of the region.”

Musharraf upbeat
Earlier, Musharraf said the talks with the Indian leader were more successful than he had expected but warned that settling the Kashmir dispute would take a long time.

Musharraf said there had been a change in attitude in Pakistan about Kashmir, which is split between the neighbors but claimed in its entirety by both. The two nuclear armed rivals have fought two wars over it.

“Domestically there is a realization that the military option is not the option any more,” he told Indian journalists. “The strategy of a coercive diplomacy is no more an option.”

“Our achievements on all issues are more than what I expected,” Musharraf said. But on Kashmir, he said, “it will need a lot of time and wisdom to arrive at a settlement. Let us go step by step.”

Political observers said the talks were a success.

“It is a big push forward,” said M.K. Rasgotra, a former Indian diplomat. “Both sides have shown flexibility and displayed pragmatism, especially on the Kashmir issue.”

Talat Masood, a former general in the Pakistani army, said Islamabad appeared reconciled to “India’s position on the territorial aspect of Kashmir.”

The decisions marked a major shift in how India and Pakistan have approached Kashmir, said C. Raja Mohan, a New Delhi-based professor of South Asian studies.

Raja Mohan said the two countries appeared headed for an agreement on tackling regional terrorism.

Musharraf assured Singh that Pakistan won’t allow its territory to be used for terrorism against India.

More than a dozen Islamic militant groups are fighting in Indian-controlled Kashmir for the region’s independence or its merger with mostly Muslim Pakistan. Most groups are based in Pakistan-controlled Kashmir. The 15-year insurgency has claimed more than 66,000 lives.

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