ISLAMABAD, Pakistan – Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf had tea Tuesday with Indian lawmakers following a conference in the capital that saw representatives of the two South Asian nuclear rivals renew calls for peace.
The 59-member Indian delegation — 33 lawmakers and 26 journalists — was invited by Musharraf to his official residence in Islamabad, said M. Ziauddin, an organizer of the conference.
The Indian delegation is slowly making its way back by road to New Delhi, the Indian capital. But they will be hosted at several events in Islamabad and the eastern Pakistani city of Lahore on the way. They are expected to cross the border Wednesday afternoon.
Indian and Pakistani participants called for a more vigorous peace process, talks over the flashpoint issue of Kashmir, and greater cultural exchanges in the unofficial two-day conference, which was organized by a prominent journalists group.
Pakistanis on the street backed the call for peaceful relations but warned that if their decades-old dispute over Kashmir is not resolved, peace would become impossible.
"Relations with India are tied with the Kashmir issue," said 60-year-old taxi driver Mohammed Ilyas. "If the Kashmir issue is resolved then there is no dispute with India."
The two governments have taken steps toward improving ties since April, when Indian Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee offered to hold talks with Pakistan on all issues, including Kashmir.
Kashmir has been the main cause of tension between the South Asian neighbors. A Himalayan region, Kashmir is divided between the two but each claims it in its entirety. India and Pakistan have fought two of their three wars over Kashmir since their independence from Britain in 1947.
The latest period of tension in relations between the neighbors came following an attack on the Indian parliament in December 2001. India blamed Islamic militants and Pakistan's spy agency for involvement in the attack. Pakistan denied any role.
The two sides have restored full diplomatic relations, a bus service and are discussing resuming air and rail links — all severed in the wake of that attack.
On Tuesday, many Pakistanis in the capital said they favored an end to the dispute, but called on India to make concessions over Kashmir.
"Like neighbors have the right to visit each other's homes, we should participate in the happiness and sorrows of each other," said Mohammed Abbas, a newspaper seller. "But if Kashmir remains an issue, something bad may happen. Maybe a war."