India and Pakistan leaders in US to to boost peace process

The leaders of India and Pakistan meet in New York tomorrow to push forward a peace process which is beginning to offer a realistic chance of a lasting rapprochement.

No one expects a major breakthrough when Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf meet on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly, but analysts expect the pair to review and renew their quest for peace and a solution to the decades-old dispute over Kashmir.

There are plenty of hurdles still to overcome, plenty of sceptics still around. Singh accused Pakistan last month of being "half-hearted" in its efforts to prevent militants using its soil to attack Indian-ruled Kashmir. Pakistan still suspects India of dragging its feet in the search for a lasting solution to the Kashmir question, and before leaving for New York Musharraf said he expected this to top the agenda when he meets Singh.

India has ceded ground, bringing Kashmiri separatists into the peace process and allowing them to talk to both sides, in what is being described as a "triangular dialogue".

"The next step is a de-escalation of violence," said Najam Sethi, editor of Pakistan's Daily Times.

"Anytime in the next six months you should see a reduction of troops... and maybe in a year, two years from now, new elections in Kashmir with the Hurriyat to participate in a decent manner."

In the meantime Musharraf and Singh have agreed to make the Hurriyat their "sounding board" in the peace process.

Musharraf, in particular, is hoping they will endorse his vision of the peace process, effectively undercutting criticism from the right-wing that he has "sold out" the Kashmiri people.

The next step might be for the Indian army to take a step back from active counter-insurgency operations and allow Kashmiri police to play a greater role. There is room also for an acceleration in the release of political prisoners in Kashmir.

At the same time, Pakistan has to gain India's trust by preventing militants crossing into Kashmir, a card it has been reluctant to relinquish up to now.

It is in maintaining this delicate balancing act that Singh and Musharraf's meeting will be crucial, Reuters reports.

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