Pakistani activists welcome Indian lawmakers for peace conferen
Sunday, August 10, 2003
LAHORE, Pakistan -- Political activists chanted peace slogans and tossed rose petals Saturday as a delegation of lawmakers from India arrived for a two-day conference aimed at easing long-standing tensions between the nuclear-armed South Asian neighbors.
Pakistani and Indian lawmakers planned to encourage their governments to resume stalled peace talks and take further steps to improve relations between countries that have fought three wars and come close to a fourth.
"We are here to show our brothers and sisters in Pakistan that we are sincere in wanting peace," said Indian lawmaker Laloo Prasad Yadav, one of the 33 delegates.
Their arrival in the border city of Lahore came the same day that India formally restored full diplomatic ties with its neighbor by having its ambassador-designate to Pakistan present his credentials to Pakistani President Gen. Pervez Musharraf.
The delegation, which also included 26 journalists from India, planned to spend a couple of hours in Lahore before heading to the capital, Islamabad, where the conference will be held today and Monday.
"We are here to undo the bitterness between Pakistan and India," Yadav said. "No country can progress if it has a bad relationship with its neighbor."
During the conference, organized by Pakistani journalists, the delegates will discuss Kashmir, a divided Himalayan region that both India and Pakistan claim in its entirety.
"There are plenty of solutions to the Kashmir issue. It is up to us to seek possible ways out," said Indian lawmaker Ram Jethmalani, a delegation member and chairman of India's Kashmir Committee.
"Only through people-to-people contact can we make further progress on peace," said Jethmalani. "While standing on this border I don't see any difference between the people of the two countries."
Pakistan's delegation will include 20 editors and 15 experts on India-Pakistan relations. All the meetings will be closed to the public except for the opening and closing ceremonies.
Pakistan and India have fought two of their three wars over Kashmir and were at the brink of a fourth war last year after a Dec. 13, 2001, attack on the Indian parliament. New Delhi blamed the assault on two Pakistani-based militant groups and Pakistan's spy agency.
Pakistan outlawed the militant groups but denied involvement.
In recent months, both countries have said they are trying to improve relations. They have restored diplomatic ties and resumed bus links.
The two countries are also discussing re-establishing air and train links.