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India, Pakistan Hold First Talks In 15 Months

STEVE INSKEEP, Host:

Talks between India and Pakistan came today, but they don't seem to have done much to improve relations between the two nuclear-armed neighbors. The U.S. has been pressing the two sides to end their decades-old dispute, not least because Washington thinks this would help Pakistan to focus on the fight against the Taliban and al-Qaida. NPR's Philip Reeves reports.

PHILIP REEVES: There have already been some talks between India and Pakistan since the Mumbai attacks. But today's meeting was the most substantial attempt so far to rebuild their shattered relationship. Afterwards, India's envoy, Nirupama Rao, struck a guarded, but generally positive note.

NIRUPAMA RAO: We had useful discussions. We had detailed, candid discussions. There was transparency on both sides.

REEVES: Rao said Pakistan pressed for a return to the formal peace dialogue, the peace talks that began in 2004, but were frozen by India after the Mumbai assault. She said India declined, at least for now, but agreed to keep in touch.

RAO: We certainly don't discount the achievements made by the composite dialogue and the relevance of that dialogue. But the time is ripe as yet to resume it, because we have to create a climate of trust and confidence. And, you know, there has to be a certain process that we have put in place, step by step, before we do that.

REEVES: Pakistani commentator, retired General Talat Masood, believes the two sides will make no progress unless these core issues are tackled.

TALAT MASOOD: Unless they address the problem of Kashmir and now also the problem of water, it would be very difficult for anything, you know, the relations to be normalized.

(SOUNDBITE OF GUNFIRE)

REEVES: No one expected a major breakthrough today. Rajiv Sikri is an Indian former senior diplomat.

RAJIV SIKRI: And it is unfair to expect that everything would be resolved at the level of the foreign secretaries. But it's the beginning of a dialogue process, which I hope would be sustained no matter what happens.

REEVES: Many obstacles lie in the path back to peacemaking. The lack of trust between the two sides is very great. Pakistan suspects India of supporting insurgents in the Pakistani province of Baluchistan. Both sides are deeply suspicious of one another's intentions in Afghanistan. They also have lots of issues to settle. First up were disputes over water and borders.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV COMMERCIAL)

AMITABH BACHCHAN: Unidentified Man: (Singing in foreign language)

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

REEVES: Bollywood's patriarch, the superstar Amitabh Bachchan, makes a TV appeal for peace. The governments of India and Pakistan are not acting alone. This appeal is part of a campaign by two media giants: the Times of India and Pakistan's Jang Group. Together, they're trying to foster more people-to-people and cultural contacts between Indians and Pakistanis. They're planning a big trade conference soon.

RAHUL KANSAL: We were mindful of the fact that there could be a (unintelligible). But we felt that it would be held against us for trying.

REEVES: Martily Bosnamat(ph) of India's Economic Times.

MARTILY BOSNAMAT: It would be enormous, because they're both two desperately poor countries. And the amount of money that both of us spend on our defense forces is incredible.

REEVES: Philip Reeves, NPR News, New Delhi. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Philip Reeves is an award-winning international correspondent covering South America. Previously, he served as NPR's correspondent covering Pakistan, Afghanistan, and India.

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