New Delhi (CNSNews.com) - India and Pakistan have declared that the peace process between them is now "irreversible."
In a joint statement released at the end of a three-day visit to India by Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf, the longstanding rivals agreed to continue discussions on the divided territory of Kashmir in a "sincere and purposeful manner," to find a resolution to a dispute that sparked two wars between them and has cost more than 60,000 lives.
The two governments also said they would not allow terrorism to impede the peace process or a growing number of trade and travel exchanges across the Line of Control (LoC), which separates the Indian- and Pakistani-controlled portions of Kashmir.
India has long accused Pakistan of supporting terrorists fighting to end Indian rule in Kashmir.
Efforts to end the animosity between the South Asian neighbors have been strongly supported by the U.S., which views both as important allies in the region.
In a move that may set off alarm bells in the U.S., however, the bilateral agreement expressed support for a plan to set up a gas pipeline from Iran to India, via Pakistan.
During a recent visit, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice urged India not to go ahead with the project, offered alternative energy help to India, including help with civilian nuclear power stations.
India rebuffed the U.S. suggestion, arguing that its energy requirements were growing exponentially because of its rapid industrialization.
Pakistan stands to benefit substantially from carrier fees it would earn from India should the project go ahead.
Musharraf acknowledged the U.S. concerns, but said India and Pakistan also needed "to pursue their national objectives."
Meanwhile, Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh welcomed Pakistan's condemnation of a terrorist attack that threatened to derail a newly-inaugurated bus service linking the Indian- and Pakistani-ruled parts of Kashmir.
India saw the statement as significant because Islamabad characterized the armed attack as an "act of terrorism" rather than an operation by "freedom fighters."
Relations between the two countries plummeted in December 2001 after a terrorist attack on the Indian parliament. India accused its neighbor of harboring and training terrorists and the two countries came perilously close to war with a massive deployment of troops on the borders.
The troops were recalled in October 2002, but relations remained strained until January 2004, when former Indian Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee introduced a series of "confidence-building measures." Pakistan reciprocated with a ceasefire along the LoC, a move that prompted the rare movement of people whose families had been separated when India and Pakistan were divided in 1947.
Many Indian analysts ascribe the Pakistani shift to a growing realization that its struggling economy could benefit.
Singh, a top economist and the architect of financial reforms in India, is believed to have convinced Musharraf of the economic advantages of opening borders to more than a million Indian visitors each year.
At a meeting with Indian newspaper editors, Musharraf spoke of a situation in which "borders could be soft, could be redrawn or made irrelevant altogether," hinting that the Kashmir problem could be resolved with greater public interaction and trade ties.
The improving ties are resented by Kashmiri radicals who want Kashmir united under Pakistani rule or as an independent state, and who have long demanded a say in any decisions on the territory's future.
Kashmiri leader Syed Ali Geelani called Musharraf's visit to India a failure, and said the Pakistani leader had been "well caught in Delhi's trap."
See earlier stories:
India, Pakistan Launch Historic Kashmir 'Peace Bus' (Apr. 07, 2005)
US Unhappy with Indian Plan to Buy Gas From Iran (Mar. 16, 2005)
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