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Pakistan, India Lawmakers Negotiate

February 12, 1999

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan (AP) _ Lawmakers from Pakistan and India sat across the negotiating table today to try to chip away at 51 years of hostility, lay the foundations for friendship and stanch their nuclear rivalry.

The two-day conference represents the first time that lawmakers from the uneasy rivals have gotten together in an attempt to ease decades of stormy relations characterized by war and relentless bickering.

Neither side is expecting to achieve a major breakthrough. Pakistan’s former foreign minister, Gohar Ayub, said, ``We have a shared history, culture, (but) we are like oil and water in a barrel.″

Meetings between Pakistan and India have taken on increased significance since last May, when the nations conducted underground nuclear tests. World leaders have strongly lobbied the two countries to take steps to ease tensions and avert a possible confrontation.

Pakistan and India have fought three wars since British rule of the subcontinent ended in 1947. Since May, the overwhelming fear is that another confrontation could escalate into a nuclear one.

``Pakistan and India are entrapped in both declared and undeclared wars and a most costly arms race which their economies cannot afford,″ said Imtiaz Alam of Pakistan’s Jang group of newspapers, the organizers of the conference.

More than 35 lawmakers from India and 60 from Pakistan are attending the conference. The Asian subcontinent, home to more than 1 billion people, is one of the poorest regions in the world.

According to estimates, more than 400 million people in the two countries live well below the poverty level. Yet the two countries are among the biggest consumers of weapons, Alam said.

In his opening remarks, Alam told participants that the motivation for the conference was, in part, to ``save this beloved subcontinent of ours from nuclear catastrophe.″

Opposition Indian legislator K. Asungba Sangtam said, ``We have not come with any special agenda. ... We have come here to become good neighbors and to live together in peace and tranquility.″

Pakistani lawmakers said the nagging dispute over the region of Kashmir has to be settled if the relationship between the two countries is to improve.

Two of the three wars fought between India and Pakistan have been over Kashmir, a former princely state divided between them after independence. Both countries claim the Himalayan territory.

``Without the solution of this problem there cannot be any progress in any other field,″ said Pakistani lawmaker Yasin Wattoo, a member of the ruling Pakistan Muslim League.

While Pakistan is pushing for international mediation in the dispute, India wants it settled bilaterally.

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