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A sea change in South Asia

From Mike Chinoy
CNN Senior Asia Correspondent

Vajpayee and Musharraf shake hands during a collective call by SAARC participants Sunday.
Vajpayee and Musharraf shake hands during a collective call by SAARC participants Sunday.

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The leaders of India and Pakistan meet formally for the first time since the two nations came close to war over the disputed territory of Kashmir. CNN's Mike Chinoy reports.
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(CNN) -- When the leaders of Pakistan and India agreed to embark on ground-breaking talks on a spate of security issues this week, it marked a sea of change in decades of bitter rivalry between the foes.

For more than half a century, since the day they gained their independence from Britain, these two neighbors have been fighting over Kashmir, the mountainous territory with a Muslim majority claimed by both countries.

There have been two full-scale wars, one in 1947 and one in 1965, followed by decades of endless exchanges of fire across the Line Of Control dividing the part of Kashmir India controls from that controlled by Pakistan.

In recent years, the territory has been wracked by a bloody insurgency. It started as an uprising against what many Kashmiris saw as India's heavy-handed rule but its character soon changed as Islamic militants, many operating from Pakistan, joined the battle.

In 1999, tension reached a feverish pitch when militants with the backing of the Pakistan army, infiltrated into Indian controlled territory near Kargil. A key architect of that operation was General Pervez Musharraf, then Pakistan's army chief.

After seizing power in a coup later that year, Musharraf made the cause of Kashmir a cornerstone of his policy.

When extremists associated with a Pakistan-based group attacked the Indian parliament in late 2001, New Delhi responded by deploying hundreds of thousands of troops along the line off control.

There were fears these two nuclear-armed neighbors were on the brink of full-scale war.

But in late 2003, tensions began to ease. Musharraf declared a cease-fire and as the South Asian summit got underway, Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee who'd refused to talk to Musharraf for more than two years, changed his mind.

After three days of high stakes diplomacy in Islamabad, for once, the superlatives might not be an exaggeration

"Ladies and gentlemen, history has been made," Musharraf said when announcing a breakthrough in relations with its long-time adversary.

The talks over the disputed Himalayan territory of Kashmir are set to begin next month.

So after one of the most dangerous periods in recent South Asian history, both men appear determined to find a new, peaceful way forward.

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