NEW DELHI – India and Pakistan on Sunday began their first substantive talks in six years on disputed Kashmir (search) — one of the world's most dangerous flashpoints and a key hurdle in their revived peace process.
India's Foreign Secretary Shashank (search) and Pakistan Foreign Secretary Riaz Khokhar (search) shook hands before leading their separate delegations into the closed talks in New Delhi. They made no comments to reporters.
Shashank uses one name.
The nuclear-armed neighbors have fought two wars over the divided Himalayan region and narrowly avoided another conflict in 2002. Both claim the territory in its entirety.
Underscoring the importance of easing tensions, suspected Islamic rebels on Saturday attacked a village in Indian-controlled Kashmir, killing 12 people.
India accuses Pakistan of collaborating with the rebels, who want independence for Indian Kashmir or its merger with Muslim-dominated Pakistan. Pakistan denies the allegation, a key source of rancor.
"We have very important business to do," Khokhar said Saturday after he arrived in New Delhi. "We certainly will approach these talks with great sincerity and seriousness."
The rivals agreed in November to a truce along the Line of Control, which divides Kashmir. Both sides have observed the deal, but have jointly amassed nearly 1 million soldiers in the region. India is expected to use the talks to propose both sides pull some forces back.
India is also expected to raise the issue of Islamic insurgents allegedly crossing from Pakistan-controlled Kashmir into Indian territory.
Pakistan says it doesn't allow terrorists on its soil but acknowledges giving political and diplomatic support to what it sees as the legitimate struggle of the Kashmiri people to end Indian occupation.
A dozen rebel groups have been fighting the government in India-controlled Kashmir since 1989, a conflict that has killed than 65,000 people, mostly civilians.
The Kashmir talks, the first substantive discussions since 1998, are the most recent peace initiatives stemming from a summit in January. A week ago, the neighbors agreed to create a new nuclear hotline to reduce the risk of war and affirmed their commitment to a nuclear test ban.
Saturday's resignation of Pakistan's Prime Minister Zafarullah Khan Jamali (search) was expected to have little impact on the peace process because President Gen. Pervez Musharraf (search) is the nation's ultimate power broker and wields control over such matters.