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New tone in India-Pakistan ties

The leaders of the two countries met Sunday in India to talk Kashmir, bus routes, and trade.

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The last time President Pervez Musharraf came to India, in July 2001, he was feted by celebrities and given a red-carpet treatment worthy of a king. Yet the former commando completely failed to win concessions on the disputed territory of Kashmir, or to improve relations between India and Pakistan.

This time, the tone of his visit has been much more low-key - lunch with the Indian president here, visit to a Sufi shrine there, and a 70-minute stop at a cricket match, which Pakistan won. Yet Mr. Musharraf might actually achieve something lasting, including a revived discussion of Kashmir and a few solid steps toward normalized economic and political relations between the two nuclear rivals, observers say.

Now the rhetoric of "lasting solutions" has been replaced by less ambitious, but more practical talk of "softer borders." Still, for the time being, the most important point seems to be that people are talking, not shooting.

"A lot is going to happen from these talks," says C. Rajamohan, a political scientist at Jawaharlal Nehru University. "The story has shifted from something that seemed like Mission Impossible to something where you will see substantive changes in people's lives."

Talking, not fighting

The very fact that Pakistan and India are talking at all is in itself almost miraculous. Just 11 days ago, militants attempted to derail the brand-new bus service between Indian- and Pakistani-administered Kashmir by torching an Indian tourist center in Srinagar and lobbing grenades at a bus full of Kashmiri civilians. Both countries immediately condemned the attack, and the talks continued as scheduled.

Speaking to reporters after a lunch with Indian President A.J.P. Kalam, Musharraf said that talks were going in "the right direction."

The question now is how to get beyond cricket, bus routes, and nice words.

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