ISLAMABAD (Reuters) - Pakistan and India agreed on Friday to try to ease fears about their nuclear arsenals, in unexpectedly positive talks between the two countries’ top diplomats.
Indian Foreign Secretary Nirupama Rao and her Pakistani counterpart Salman Bashir agreed to expand confidence-building measures in both their nuclear and conventional weapons.
A meeting of experts would be asked to “consider additional measures ... to build trust and confidence and promote peace and security,” they said in a joint statement after a two-day meeting in Islamabad.
The outcome of the talks was better than expected, with both foreign secretaries holding an unscheduled joint news conference, and also agreeing to try to improve trade and travel across the cease-fire line dividing disputed Kashmir.
“The ideology of military conflict should have no place in the 21st century,” Rao told the news conference.
India and Pakistan in February resumed a formal peace process broken off after the November 2008 attack on Mumbai by Pakistan-based militants which killed 166 people.
But as in previous peace efforts, progress has been slow, and vulnerable to any attempts by Islamist militants to try to trigger a war between Pakistan and India by launching another Mumbai-style attack.
Both countries, which announced they had tested nuclear weapons in 1998, have fought three full-scale wars since winning independence in 1947, two of them over Kashmir.
The foreign secretaries gave few details of how they expected to build confidence in their nuclear capabilities.
India and Pakistan already exchange information about missile tests and have an agreement not to attack each others’ nuclear facilities.
But with India building its conventional capabilities and Pakistan reported to be developing battlefield nuclear weapons, security analysts say the risk of a conflict escalating into nuclear war is always present.
“Negative thinking exists on both sides so there are chances that either one of them could misread or miscalculate the other’s movement and begin assembling and loading nuclear weapons,” said Pakistan defence analyst Hassan Askari Rizvi.
The outcome of the talks was very good, he said. “They should talk more and more because this is how they can minimise the threat of war and particularly nuclear war.”
Uday Bhaskar, director of the National Maritime Foundation think tank in New Delhi, also welcomed the inclusion of nuclear confidence-building measures in the talks.
“For the sake of regional security, we need an uninterrupted dialogue on the WMD issue,” he told Reuters.
“At some point we have to talk about nuclear postures ... We need to have some more transparency about the respective inventories, a certain amount of transparency on capability and intent.”
The foreign secretaries also agreed to convene a working group next month to improve trade and travel across the Line of Control (LoC), the heavily militarised cease-fire line dividing Kashmir.
Split between India and Pakistan since independence, families on both sides of Kashmir have been cut off from each other and old trade routes suffocated.
“We must help the people of Jammu and Kashmir to connect with each other -- to travel, to trade,” Rao said.
India and Pakistan came close to agreeing a roadmap for peace in Kashmir in 2007 which aimed to make the borders dividing the region between India and Pakistan irrelevant.
That agreement stalled when then Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf ran into political turmoil at home which eventually forced him out of office.
The people of Kashmir, who launched a separatist revolt against Indian rule in 1989, say they want the right to govern themselves.
“We welcome the efforts by the two countries to address the problem and also expand the trade across the border,” said Mirwaiz Omar Farooq, chief of the All Parties Hurriyat (Freedom) Conference, the moderate grouping of Kashmiri separatists.
“But they did not speak on the resolution of Kashmir. In the future we hope they would make some headway on the dispute and include the Kashmiri leadership to find a lasting solution,” he told Reuters.
Additional reporting by C.J. Kuncheria in New Delhi, Sheikh Mushtaq in Srinagar and Kamran Haider in Islamabad; editing by Elizabeth Piper