ISLAMABAD, Oct 4 (AFP): Pakistan and India Tuesday held a meeting of a joint economic body for the first time in 16 years, marking a further thaw between the South Asian rivals.
Visiting Foreign Minister Natwar Singh is leading the Indian side at the talks with his Pakistani counterpart Khurshid Kasuri, foreign office officials said.
Singh also met President Pervez Musharraf at his Army House residence in Rawalpindi before the joint commission meeting. Details of the meeting were not immediately available.
Senior Indian diplomat Shyam Saran said the commission would discuss steps to promote trade ties between the nuclear-armed neighbours, who have fought three wars, two of them over the Himalayan region of Kashmir.
"This will be the first meeting of the joint commission after a gap of 16 years. This is a very significant event for our two countries," Saran told reporters late Monday.
"Our trade and economic relations are improving," he said, noting that Pakistan recently used their land border to import basic foods including onions, garlic and potatoes from India.
The decision on the economic commission was reached Monday when Singh held talks with Kasuri to review progress on the peace process.
The two countries have also made some progress at talks on withdrawing troops from the Siachen glacier in Kashmir, a Pakistani foreign office spokesman said, but he rejected reports that a deal was imminent.
"There is some progress but I cannot say they are very close" to signing an accord, foreign office spokesman Naeem Khan told AFP. "There are ideas that have been exchanged and there is some progress."
Indian newspapers reported a pact was near on withdrawing soldiers from the 6,300-metre (21,000-foot) glacier, where experts say cold and avalanches have killed many more troops than hostile fire.
The Hindustan Times said the deal was done and the wording was being worked out, while the Indian Express said talks went on into the night to thrash out the differences on Siachen and Sir Creek.
The Pakistani press was more circumspect, with local dailies Dawn and The News saying the two countries may set out a road map for Siachen and Sir Creek and the Daily Times saying there was no permanent agreement.
Thousands of Pakistani and Indian troops remain eyeball-to-eyeball atop the Siachen glacier, which overlooks China and India. India occupied most of it in 1984 and a bloody clash erupted there in 1987 between India and Pakistan.
On Monday India and Pakistan signed deals to notify each other in advance on ballistic missile tests and to set up a hotline between their coastguards.
The peace process was launched in early 2004 to resolve eight issues including the dispute over the Muslim-majority Himalayan state of Kashmir, which is divided between Indian and Pakistan and claimed in full by both.
In symbolic confidence-building gestures, the two countries have started a cross-border bus service in Kashmir and resumed sporting ties, but progress has been sluggish on central problems such as Kashmir itself.