Last week Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf and Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh agreed on various new confidence-building measures between the two nations. Their talks, held during Mr. Musharraf’s unofficial visit to India on April 17, produced agreement, for example, on the passage of trucks for commercial purposes over Kashmir’s Line of Control, or ceasefire line. This is expected to greatly help ease tensions between the countries.

On April 7 direct bus service began operating for the first time between parts of Kashmir controlled by either India or Pakistan, thus giving impetus to confidence building. Hopefully the exchange of people and goods in Kashmir, over which the two countries have been squabbling for more than half a century, will open the way to a settlement.

India and Pakistan, which have gone to war three times in the past over the sovereignty of Kashmir and other issues, both conducted nuclear tests in 1998. The Stockholm International Peace Research Institute and others estimate that they each possess around 40 nuclear missile heads.

After the nuclear tests, bilateral relations deteriorated, especially amid large-scale military clashes in Kashmir and an attack by Islamic extremists on the Indian Parliament. Tension mounted to the extent that people were talking of being on the “eve of nuclear war.”

A relaxation of tension began in 2003, when then-Indian Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee called for a dialogue. Rail and bus services between the two countries resumed, and the two countries agreed to a ceasefire in Kashmir. In summit talks held in January 2004, India and Pakistan resumed comprehensive discussions with an agenda that included the Kashmir problem, confidence-building measures, and ways to provide security against terrorism.

These comprehensive consultations have steadily built up trust, resulting in agreements to continue the suspension of nuclear tests, to give prior notification of missile tests, and to seek a peaceful resolution of the Kashmir problem.

Behind these favorable developments lie changes in the geopolitical situation in South Asia. Both the United States and China, which had tended to favor Pakistan, have been promoting better relations with India. Both India and Pakistan are seeking international cooperation, the former in its bid to become a permanent member of the U.N. Security Council and the latter in its struggle against terrorism and the nuclear black market.

India’s ties with China, with which it had experienced border conflicts in the past, took a turn for the better during a visit to India on April 11 by Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao. China agreed to strengthen relations with India and declared its support for India’s bid to become a permanent member of the Security Council. The economic factor is also important. India’s economy has been growing at around 6 percent annually in recent years and has achieved spectacular development in the information-technology industry.

Together with Brazil, China and Russia, India is among the developing countries that are thought to have the potential for catching up with and even overtaking economic powers such as the U.S. and Japan one day. To attract more foreign investment, though, it is necessary for India to show the international community that tension with Pakistan is easing. And to improve its energy situation, India must gain the cooperation of Pakistan, through which a planned pipeline will transport natural gas from Iran.

The Pakistan government, meanwhile, has been pressed to show results toward settlement of the Kashmir problem in order to check domestic dissatisfaction.

India and Pakistan have not yet reached a fundamental solution to the Kashmir problem, which has been festering for more than a half-century. India will not accept a revision of the region’s borders, and Pakistan has not changed its opposition to making the Line of Control a permanent border.

Yet President Musharraf is showing a forward-looking stance toward making the line a “soft border.” The international community has a strong interest in seeing that the two countries continue this pragmatic approach.

The improvement of relations between India and Pakistan still involves uncertain factors such as the activities of Islamic extremists, but efforts should be stepped up so that the latest summit can serve as a favorable tail wind for accelerating the thaw between the two nations.

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