The leaders of India and Pakistan on Friday hailed a new era in often-fraught relations between the two nuclear rivals and agreed to study a joint pipeline project and pursue solutions to the Kashmir conflict.
The one-hour private meeting between Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf and Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on the fringes of the U.N. General Assembly produced no apparent breakthroughs but there was considerable upbeat rhetoric.
"I sincerely believe that today is an historic day. We have made a new beginning," Singh said.
Musharraf said he hoped the meeting augured well for Indo-Pakistani relations, scarred by three major wars and frequent border skirmishes in Kashmir since winning independence from Britain in 1947.
"Both leaders reiterated their commitment to continue the bilateral dialogue to restore normalcy and cooperation between India and Pakistan," according to a joint statement read by Musharraf at a news conference.
They agreed to explore options for a peaceful, negotiated settlement to the 56-year-old conflict over Kashmir "in a sincere spirit and purposeful manner," the statement said.
They also agreed to implement measures to build trust and to explore a natural gas line via Pakistan to India.
Friday's much-anticipated meeting followed sluggish progress in peace talks between the nuclear-armed enemies since the Pakistani leader met Singh's predecessor, Atal Behari Vajpayee, in January.
The two sides have had one round of formal talks with no breakthrough on the core issue of Kashmir since Singh's Congress Party won a general election in mid-year.
But an expert on South Asia, Husain Haqqani, said the latest meeting achieved no substantial breakthrough.
"Neither side wants to give the impression that it is unwilling to continue the dialogue and so this is one of the examples of India and Pakistan continuing a negotiating process without actually negotiating anything," said Haqqani of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.
"In India, public opinion does not want a settlement on Kashmir that is unfavorable to India and in Pakistan, the military cannot afford to settle Kashmir in a way in which its pre-eminence ends in Pakistani politics," he said in an interview.
Pakistan insists on a time frame for resolving Kashmir, while New Delhi insists Pakistan must do more to stop what it calls cross-border infiltration of militants.
Before the meeting, Musharraf said he would bring no specific proposals but hoped the two leaders would develop a relationship and "judge each other's intentions."
Musharraf has said repeatedly in recent days that both sides must show flexibility in their negotiations.
He began Friday's session by presenting Singh with three gifts: two paintings depicting his childhood school and village and an album of photographs, according to Pakistani spokesmen.
In a twist of fate, Singh was born in what is now Pakistan and Musharraf was born in India.