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India: Missile Test Dampens Hopes Of Breakthrough In Relations With Pakistan

Prague, 29 April 2003 (RFE/RL) -- India's test today of a short-range missile capable of carrying a nuclear warhead into neighboring Pakistan appears to have dampened hopes of a possible breakthrough in relations between the two nuclear-capable countries.

Hopeful newspaper commentaries were published in Pakistan and India after Pakistani Prime Minister Zafarullah Khan Jamali yesterday initiated the first direct telephone contact between the governments in Islamabad and New Delhi in 18 months.

An official statement from Jamali's office said he telephoned Indian Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee to express Islamabad's readiness for a dialogue with New Delhi at any level.

The statement said Jamali told Vajpayee that Islamabad hopes India will agree to an unconditional dialogue that addresses all outstanding issues between the two countries -- including control of the disputed and divided region of Kashmir.

But authorities in New Delhi continue to accuse Islamabad of supporting Islamic militancy and cross-border attacks in Kashmir in order to bring the majority-Muslim region under Islamabad's control. Vajpayee says there will not be any talks on Kashmir until Islamabad first brings an end to those cross-border attacks.

For decades, Indian officials have rejected the idea of any negotiations on the future status of disputed Kashmir. The divisive issue has clouded relations between New Delhi and Islamabad for most of the past half-century and has contributed to tensions that brought the two countries to the brink of nuclear war last year.

Pakistan has repeatedly denied that it is fostering cross-border terrorist attacks in Indian-administered Kashmir. Islamabad has requested the deployment of international observers along the Line of Control in the disputed region. But New Delhi reportedly has rejected that idea.

Pakistan's state-run television today quotes Pakistani Foreign Minister Khurshid Mehmud Kasuri as saying that Islamabad has proposed to India that monitors from the five permanent members of the UN Security Council -- as well as observers from Germany, Saudi Arabia, and Iran -- be positioned along Kashmir's 770-kilometer-long division line.

Kasuri said the proposal was made after India rejected the idea of monitoring by UN observers and joint monitoring by India and Pakistan.

Kasuri welcomed an offer by Vajpayee last week to "extend a hand of friendship" to Pakistan, a remark made by the Indian prime minister during a public speech in Indian-administered Kashmir.

But Kasuri said hopes for warmer relations between the two countries are being dampened by continued allegations from Indian officials that Pakistan sponsors what New Delhi calls "cross-border terrorism."

Since India test-fired a Prithvi missile today, regional analysts also have been more cautious about the ramifications of yesterday's phone call to Vajpayee by Jamali. Most experts in the region now say the call represents a thaw rather than a major breakthrough in bilateral ties.

General Shankar Roy-Chowdhury, retired chief of the Indian army, told Reuters today that he thinks Pakistan and India should set realistic goals to improve ties one step at a time, rather than attempting to resolve their decades-long dispute in a single, dramatic breakthrough.