Pakistan matches Indian offer to renew diplomatic ties

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The Independent Online
With a US envoy heading to south Asia to encourage a diplomatic thaw, Pakistan responded to peace overtures from India yesterday by announcing the restoration of travel links and diplomatic ties with its nuclear-armed neighbour.</p>The Prime Minister, Zafarullah Khan Jamali, also announced that sports ties would be increased. Indian and Pakistani cricketers have not played on each other's territory since 1997. He told a news conference in Islamabad that he would order the release of detained Indian fishermen and sailors as a goodwill gesture.</p>Mr Jamali's gesture came after a telephone call last week with the Indian Prime Minister, Atal Behari Vajpayee, during which they discussed how to end a year-long crisis that has brought the two countries to the brink of nuclear war.</p>It was the first top-level conversation in more than a year. Mr Jamali invited his Indian counterpart to visit Pakistan, and Mr Vajpayee responded by announcing that India would restore diplomatic ties with Islamabad as well as air links.</p>On Monday, Pakistan offered to eliminate its nuclear weapons if India did the same. But this was widely interpreted as a rhetorical step in preparation for substantive talks.</p>India, which has a much larger conventional army, has rebuffed the idea of mutual nuclear disarmament in the past. India's nuclear weapons were developed as much out of a fear of China than of Pakistan.</p>India adopted the punitive measures against Pakistan after accusing Pakistan-based militants of being behind a bloody attack on the Indian parliament in 2001.</p>The US Deputy Secretary of State, Richard Armitage, who is due in Islamabad tomorrow, praised the two nuclear rivals for their latest reconciliation efforts during a stopover in London, in which he was due to meet India's National Security Adviser, Brajesh Mishra.</p>But he told the BBC: "I don't want to leave the impression that we are a mediator. I don't think it's ... the most appropriate use of our time to take a plan. Having the temperature generally lower has allowed the two countries to make some decisions about which way they want to go in the future."</p>The speed with which India and Pakistan have moved towards peace has surprised observers in the region, who see the hand of Washington behind the sudden reconciliation. They are convinced that Mr Armitage will be armed with a "road map" that would aim to ensure a permanent solution for the disputed territory of Kashmir by the end of 2004. He is also reported to be pushing for the highly volatile region of south Asia to become a nuclear-free zone.</p>Colin Powell, the US Secretary of State, has said previously that Washington will "be ready to assist both sides as they move forward".</p>Kashmir, the issue which has poisoned Indo-Pakistani relations since 1947 and over which they have fought two wars, remains the main bone of contention between the two countries. Mr Jamali said: "It is my hope that India will seize the moment, put aside the acrimony of the past, and purposefully move forward with Pakistan to peacefully resolve all issues including the core issue of Jammu and Kashmir."</p>Meanwhile, suspected Muslim guerrillas hurled a grenade at police patrolling a crowded bus station in Indian Kashmir, killing one person and injuring at least 25 others, police said. There has been a spurt in violence in the region after Mr Vajpayee urged talks with Pakistan over the dispute. </p>