ISLAMABAD, Pakistan - India and Pakistan agreed yesterday on a "road map for a peace process," expressing optimism that this latest attempt to resolve nearly six decades of hostility will result in a lasting peace between two of the world's most bitter enemies.
Concluding three days of talks in Islamabad, the nuclear-armed neighbors unveiled a schedule of meetings to be held over the next six months addressing the range of disagreements that have divided them since they won independence from Britain in 1947.
"We hope that this road map will eventually lead to settlement of all outstanding disputes between India and Pakistan, and in the direction of a durable peace," Pakistan's foreign secretary, Riaz Khokar, told reporters in Islamabad.
The first of the meetings won't take place until May or June, after elections scheduled to be held in India this spring. Although Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee is expected to be re-elected, the vote adds an element of uncertainty to the future of the talks.
That meeting will directly address the future of the disputed Himalayan territory of Kashmir, the Muslim-majority region claimed by both countries and currently divided between them by a cease-fire line drawn in 1947.
India and Pakistan have fought three wars, in 1965, 1971 and 1999, and came close to fighting again in 2002. Both countries have acquired nuclear weapons, which they have threatened to use, making Kashmir one of the world's most dangerous flash points.
In July, there will be talks on other problems, including terrorism, disputes over water, drug trafficking, and trade and commerce. There will also be separate talks at a more junior level on border security issues and on mechanisms to reduce the likelihood of a nuclear conflict.
In August, the foreign ministers of both countries will meet to review progress and decide on the next step, according to a joint statement issued by the two sides.
Taken together, the elements of the road map do not amount to much more than a timetable for future discussions. None of the actual issues was broached in the talks, and both sides urged patience.
Previous attempts to address the issues have failed, and there is still no indication of how either side intends to approach the bitterly divisive issue of Kashmir.
Whether the residents of Kashmir will go along with any solution reached by the two nations claiming their loyalties is also in question. Although there have been no reliable public opinion surveys in Kashmir, the few that have been taken, along with anecdotal evidence, suggest that many Kashmiris don't want to be ruled by either of their squabbling neighbors and would prefer independence.
Pakistan's president, Gen. Pervez Musharraf, addressing an audience of clerics, promised that he would not accept any solution unless it was acceptable also to the people of Kashmir.
"I am hopeful that a solution for Kashmir, in accordance with the wishes of Kashmiris, will be found," he said. "If there is no solution according to the wishes of Kashmiris, no solution will be found."
The launch of the new peace process comes after a groundbreaking meeting between Musharraf and Vajpayee in January, at which the two leaders promised to resume peace talks suspended in August 2001.
The Chicago Tribune is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.