Tags: India | Pakistan | talks | vague

India-Pakistan Talks Cordial But Vague

Thursday, 25 February 2010 10:46 AM

NEW DELHI - India and Pakistan emerged Thursday from their first official talks since the 2008 Mumbai attacks with a vague promise to keep in contact but no progress on their core disputes.

Indian Foreign Secretary Nirupama Rao and her Pakistani counterpart Salman Bashir met for three hours in New Delhi for talks seen as vital for regional stability and a key part of US war strategy in Afghanistan.

They were the first discussions since India froze relations with Pakistan after the November 2008 Mumbai carnage in which 10 Islamist gunmen targeted multiple locations in the country's financial capital, killing 166 people.

India blamed the attack on Pakistan-based militants and said talks could only resume if Islamabad took concrete steps to bring those responsible to justice and cracked down on militant groups on its soil.

Rao described the meeting as "a first step towards rebuilding trust," while Bashir said he was grateful for the chance to engage with India but expressed disappointment at the narrow focus on fighting militancy.

"We have agreed to remain in touch," Rao added, without offering any detail on where or when another meeting would take place.

Arguments over the agenda before the meeting had augured badly for the chances of a breakthrough, but the mere fact that the nuclear-armed rivals came together signals an improvement in the icy ties.

"I think that under the circumstances, this is as positive an outcome as was possible. Though there was no breakthrough, there was no breakdown," commented political analyst C.U. Bhaskar from the National Maritime Foundation.

In a sign of the disagreements, Bashir complained that India's focus on the Mumbai attacks was "unfair" given Pakistan's efforts to crack down on militancy and its own struggle against the Taliban and Islamist rebels.

"We have suffered many, many hundreds of Mumbais. We have lost a great number of civilians," he said. "For anyone to think that Pakistan would be dismissive of this problem, he does not have his facts right."

Bashir insisted that dealing with terrorism was his government's "number one priority".

New Delhi's offer earlier this month to resume official contacts with Pakistan took many by surprise and led to sharp criticism from the opposition, which saw it as a climbdown and a sign of weakness.

Rao rebuffed Pakistan's request to resume a fully fledged peace process, called the Composite Dialogue, which began in 2004 and seeks to resolve all outstanding issues between the rivals.

"The time is not right as yet to resume it because we have to create a climate of trust and confidence," she said.

Experts say Washington played a key role in nudging the two neighbours back to the table in an effort to keep a lid on South Asian tensions as it presses more troops into its fight against the Taliban in Afghanistan.

The United States calculates that if the Pakistan-India relationship is stable, Pakistan will be able to dedicate more forces to fighting the Taliban on the Afghanistan-Pakistan border, analysts say.

Bashir made it clear that Pakistan wanted a return to the Composite Dialogue that would put all issues up for discussion, including the seemingly intractable dispute over Muslim-majority Kashmir.

He said he had stressed "the great importance" Pakistan attached to finding a peaceful solution in the Himalayan region, which has sparked two of the three wars the rivals have fought since 1947.

Kashmir is held in part by Pakistan and India, but claimed in full by both.

Top leaders from both countries have met several times since the Mumbai assault during regional conferences, but Thursday's meeting marked the first real move towards normalisation.

The history of Indo-Pakistan dialogue is a long and patchy one, encompassing every form of contact from back-door diplomacy to prime-ministerial summits.

The only common factor has been the glacial pace of tangible progress in resolving the core disputes between two countries.

Kalim Bahadur, a retired professor from the School of International Studies from the Jawaharlal Nehru University in New Delhi, said Thursday's talks had resulted in "no change in position of the two sides."

"The only positive thing is that they met, they talked and said they will remain in touch," he said.

Copyright © 2010 AFP. All rights reserved.

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NEW DELHI - India and Pakistan emerged Thursday from their first official talks since the 2008 Mumbai attacks with a vague promise to keep in contact but no progress on their core disputes.
Thursday, 25 February 2010 10:46 AM
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