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Signs of Goodwill, but Nothing Concrete

The 11th annual South Asia summit brought a handshake between the leaders of feuding India and Pakistan, but little in the way of concrete steps to resolution

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Flags of the seven members of the South Asian conference fly outside the summit headquarters in Kathmandu, Nepal.

In the end, the handshake was just that. A handshake.

The goodwill gesture between Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf and Indian Prime Minister Atel Behari Vajpayee that surprised both attendees of a regional conference in Nepal on Saturday and Vajpayee himself, has yet to produce any concrete steps towards a resolution to the tensions between the neighboring nuclear powers.

Pakistan continues to accuse India's army of building up its forces along the two nations' shared border and every day brings fresh reports of firefights in the disputed territory of Jammuu and Kashmir in the north of India. International observers have put pressure on both sides to resolve their differences and saw this past weekend's summit as an opportunity for both sides to meet.

But Vajpayee refused to meet until Pakistan took more steps in eliminating the kind of cross-border terrorism, that produced the Dec. 13 attack on India's parliament that killed 14 people. After accepting Musharraf's outstretched hand on Saturday, Vajpayee used his next opportunity to ask that Musharraf follow up with actions.

On Sunday the two met briefly but Vajpayee said "nothing significant had been discussed." In an interview with the editors of a major Nepalese daily, Vajpayee said talks would most likey be held in the future.

"We are neighbors and we have had talks in the past," he was quoted by the paper's editor as saying.

Musharraf seemed cautiously optimistic as well.

"The (tensions) may not have been eased, but they haven't worsened," he told reporters.

The world urges them to the discussion table

But world leaders not wanting another conflict in the already troubled region are desperate to get both leaders to the discussion table. Historic India allies America and England are especially eager to get things settled because of their reliance on Pakistan as an ally in their military campaign against the Taliban and Al Queda terrorist network in neighboring Afghanistan.

British Prime Minister Tony Blair plans to meet Vajpayee Sunday night before traveling to meet Musharaf in Islamabad on Monday.

"We must remove the dangerous tension between India and Pakistan," he told reporters. "In a longer term context, we need to address all disputes confronting India and Pakistan."

The Kashmir dispute

Among the biggest is Kashmir.

The territory has been the flashpoint for two of the three wars Pakistan and India have fought since 1947, when India gained its independence from Britain. The territory, which Pakistan has made claims on, has been in Indian control ever since it acceded to India in 1947. But there is a large Kashmiri separatist movement of roughly a dozen groups fighting the India army since 1989.

India believes these same Kashmiri separatists, harbored by Pakistan, have been responsible for numerous terrorist attacks against the country over the years. As a result, they have made their arrests a requirement before any new talks take place.

"India has been a victim of international terrorism for two decades now," Vajpayee said in a speech to the leaders of the 12 other nations that make up the conference.

Militant roundups

Pakistan seemed to take steps in the direction last week. Police arrested the leaders of the two extremist groups India holds responsible for the parliament shooting. In the past three days including hours before the summit began Saturday, they continued their sweep, arresting more than 300 suspected members of Islamic extremist organizations.

Musharraf pledged more arrests as long as India showed proof of any person or group's involvement in terrorist acts.

"I am moving in a deliberate manner towards this end," Musharraf told reporters.

In his speech to the conference, Musharraf said Pakistan too had suffered at the hands of Islamic extremists.

"We regard terrorism as a grave threat to civil society," he said. "We are determined to eliminate terrorism."

Leaders of the five other member nations of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation agreed. In a pact ending the 11th summit in Kathmandu on Sunday, the group pledged to fight terrorism on a sustained basis.

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