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India eyes better ties with Pakistan

NEW DELHI -- India unveiled major proposals yesterday to improve relations with Pakistan, expanding travel and reuniting families. Pakistan saw some positive elements but expressed disappointment the steps fail to include negotiations with Islamabad on Kashmir.

Although formal talks between the leaders of the two South Asian nations are still off, the proposals cover human concerns such as allowing athletes to compete in India-Pakistan cricket matches and letting fishermen go about their trade without fear of arrest.

The pronouncements by Foreign Minister Yashwant Sinha were the most extensive efforts so far to heal the wounds from a December 2001 attack on India's parliament complex. New Delhi blamed Pakistani-based militants for the attack, which killed 14 people, and insisted Islamabad's spy agency was behind the plot.

They were also seen here as a move to jump-start Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee's stalled peace initiative with Pakistan ahead of elections next year and seal his legacy as the man who renewed their friendship.

In Washington, State Department spokesman Adam Ereli called the proposals "a major step toward establishing normal links between these two important neighbors." The Indian government also announced that for the first time in 13 years, it would meet with members of the separatist movement in India's portion of Kashmir, the country's only Muslim-majority state. But it did not offer to negotiate the issue with Pakistan.

In Islamabad, a Pakistani Foreign Ministry statement said the proposals would be given serious consideration

, but added that Islamabad was "disappointed" that India still refused to discuss Kashmir with Pakistan.

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