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India, Pakistan agree to resume peace talks

Pakistan Rangers (right) and Indian Border Security Force personnel take part in the daily flag lowering ceremony at their joint border post of Wagah near Lahore (REUTERS)


India and Pakistan on announced Thursday the resumption of peace talks suspended more than two years ago after gunmen killed 166 people in Mumbai.

In simultaneous statements issued in New Delhi and Islamabad, the nuclear-armed neighbours and long-time rivals said they had "agreed to resume dialogue on all issues."

They also announced that Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi would visit India by July to "review progress" in the dialogue process.

The international community has been pushing both countries back to the negotiating table to help ease tensions in an already volatile region, and Washington welcomed the announcement.

The decision to resume talks was taken at a meeting between Indian Foreign Secretary Nirupama Rao and her Pakistani counterpart Salman Bashir in the Bhutanese capital Thimphu on Sunday.

Prior to the foreign ministers' meeting, secretary-level talks will be held on a wide range of issues, including the vexed territorial dispute over Kashmir.

They will also discuss counter-terrorism topics such as progress on the trial in Pakistan of seven men charged over the Mumbai attacks of November 2008.

The list of talking points is largely the same as those under discussion during the so-called "composite dialogue" which India broke off in the wake of the attacks, which were blamed on Pakistan-based militants.
Indian Foreign Ministry spokesman Vishnu Prakash said the talks would begin "in the coming weeks."

"We have to pick up the threads again," Prakash told AFP, adding "This is still a step-by-step approach which is necessary to narrow the trust deficit."

The White House said that President Barack Obama had encouraged "the idea of them sitting down and having peace talks".

"We hope (they) will be productive in their outcome," said White House spokesman Robert Gibbs.
Indian analysts, however, sounded a note of caution.

"There is no harm in engaging with Pakistan but India should not have any illusions," said T.P. Sreenivasan, a former Indian ambassador to the United Nations.

"Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has always been inclined to engage with Pakistan, to continue the conversation, but each time it breaks down."

Sreenivasan stressed that Pakistan's perceived inaction in bringing those behind the Mumbai carnage to justice would remain a stumbling block.

"Nothing else will go ahead -- whether on the border issue or anything else -- unless terrorism is addressed," he said.

Relations between India and Pakistan, which have fought three wars since the subcontinent was partitioned in 1947, have been plagued by border and resource disputes, and accusations of Pakistani militant activity against India.

The pair embarked on a formal peace dialogue in 2004, which continued until the rupture caused by the Mumbai attacks.

They began to explore a resumption of structured talks last year, and Indian Premier Singh and his Pakistani counterpart Yousuf Raza Gilani met in Thimphu in April.

"At the moment, nobody can really say what precise form these resumed talks will take or what they might achieve," said Kalim Bahadur, a retired professor of South Asian studies at Jawaharlal Nehru University in New Delhi.

"The so-called 'trust deficit' is still very apparent, so I really don't see where this can lead in the short-term," he said.