NEW DELHI -- Nuclear-armed neighbors India and Pakistan eased into talks yesterday about one of the world's most dangerous flash points -- Kashmir -- by first broaching confidence-building measures and the opening of a bus service across the cease-fire line.
Foreign Secretary Riaz Khokhar of Pakistan and his Indian counterpart, Shashank, who uses one name, also discussed a proposed hot line for nuclear-related matters and reopening consulates in Bombay and Karachi during their four-hour meeting, a spokesman said.
"There were no difficulties. There was a flow of communication," said Masood Khan, a spokesman for the Pakistani Foreign Ministry. "The intention is to make this exercise result-oriented."
The two sides were to continue the talks -- the most substantive on Kashmir in six years -- today.
Yesterday's talks also included the possibility of letting a bus carry Kashmiris across the cease-fire line that divides their homeland, Khan said. The two countries, which have fought two full-scale wars over Kashmir and narrowly avoided another conflict in 2002, have resumed cross-border bus, rail, and plane services as part of peace efforts.
However, no bus has run between Srinagar and Muzaffarabad, the capitals of the Indian- and Pakistani-controlled portions of Kashmir, for nearly 60 years. The highway was cut off and tens of thousands of families separated in 1947, when India was partitioned to create Pakistan.
A new set of peace proposals was under consideration, Khan said without giving details, adding that a joint statement was likely.
Khan said the foreign secretaries "will come up with a calendar of meetings for talks at other levels," aiming for an eventual summit between the nations' leaders.
The next major step will be a meeting of the foreign ministers -- a step above the secretary level -- in August, he said.
India accuses Pakistan of training, arming, and funding Islamic militants, who have fought Indian security forces since 1989 to win independence for Indian Kashmir or its merger with Muslim-dominated Pakistan. Pakistan denies the allegation, which is a key source of rancor.
In a sign of the difficult discussions ahead, Khan said what the Indian representatives least want to hear in such talks -- that Kashmiris have to be included in the dialogue. "Kashmiris are the principal party to the dispute. A viable, just solution has to be based on the wishes of the Kashmiri people," Khan said.
New Delhi calls the rebels "terrorists," rejects calls for a referendum on the issue, and says it is an internal matter which will not be part of three-way talks with Pakistan.
Last November, the two sides agreed to a cease-fire along the Line of Control, which divides Kashmir. India says Islamic insurgents still cross from Pakistan-controlled Kashmir into Indian territory to commit terrorist acts.