Rivals India and Pakistan set to begin talks

COLOMBO, Sri Lanka (AP) — Unwilling to travel to one another’s countries, the leaders of India and Pakistan chose neutral ground for their first encounter since each brought his nation into the nuclear arena.
With modest expectations, India’s Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee and Pakistan’s Nawaz Sharif flew into Sri Lanka’s heavily secured capital city on Tuesday, hoping to ease the tension created by a sudden spurt in the South Asian arms race.
The backdrop is a summit of the seven-nation South Asian Association of Regional Cooperation, opening today.
As in the previous nine summits, this week’s meeting is likely to be distracted by the dispute about Kashmir, the Himalayan territory over which India and Pakistan have fought two of their three wars.
Since Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi visited Pakistan in 1989, the nation’s leaders have met only in third countries, usually on the sidelines of an international conference. That was the year the Kashmir insurgency erupted, claiming since then more than 15,000 lives.
The positions on Kashmir appear irreconcilable. Pakistan demands international mediation to settle the dispute, while New Delhi rejects any outside interference.
Pakistan also wants residents of both Indian- and Pakistani-held Kashmir to be allowed to vote to chose which country they want to belong to. Such a plebiscite, as outlined in U.N. resolutions from the 1940s, is opposed by India.