Stalemate over Kashmir expected at Delhi summit

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Two orphans, Ripu Daman, 18, and her brother Zeeny, 11, have lived in a couple of cramped rooms in the Old City of Delhi all their lives. But then a Delhi city council demolition crew arrived, broke into one of the rooms, threw the children's few belongings into the courtyard and knocked down the structure in front of their eyes.

It was one more unhappy incident in the build-up to a summit meeting that was meant to be a great defrosting exercise for India and Pakistan, but which is creating miseries and misunderstandings every day.

Ripu and Zeeny lost half their home because Pakistan's President, Pervez Musharraf, once lived in a villa here and will pay a sentimental visit tomorrow. A Delhi official said: "This was an illegal construction," ignoring the fact that the children had nowhere else to go. "It had to be razed to make a clear passage for a VVIP [very very important person]."

More substantive issues are also causing difficulties. India maintained yesterday that Pakistan still held 54 Indian PoWs from the 1971 Indo-Pakistan war. India's Foreign Minister, Jaswant Singh, said: "This is a humanitarian issue, deeply disturbing to the families." On Wednesday, however, a Pakistan Army spokesman said of the alleged prisoners: "As far as we are concerned, there are none."

The call by India's Prime Minister, Atal Behari Vajpayee, to Pakistan's military ruler came out of the blue after two years of non-communication between the nuclear-armed neighbours, who have fought three wars.

The Taj Mahal was picked as the venue and places important to Mr Musharraf, born in Delhi in 1943, were cleaned up for his visit. But as the date nears, nerves are fraying and the chances of real progress growing slimmer.

India will talk about Kashmir but refuses to make concessions on Kashmir's status as part of India. Mr Musharraf has made equally clear that if there is no progress on Kashmir there will be no progress on anything. An impasse seems inevitable – except that neither side can live with a total flop.

In Kashmir, meanwhile, where at least 50,000 people have died in more than 10 years of unrest, four soldiers were among 11 people reported killed yesterday in four separate incidents. A shopkeeper in Srinagar said: "If the summit does not succeed, even the earth will burn here."