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Rivals India, Pakistan agree to "keep in touch"

New Delhi, February 25, 2010

Nuclear-armed rivals India and Pakistan, whose relationship is key to efforts to stabilise Afghanistan, held their first official talks since the 2008 attacks on Mumbai on Thursday and agreed to stay in touch.

India blames Pakistan-based militants for the Mumbai attacks which killed at least 166 people and both sides are battling for influence in Afghanistan on Pakistan's western border.

The US sees improved India-Pakistan relations as crucial so lslamabad, not having to worry about its eastern border with India, can focus on fighting the Taliban on its west.

The nuclear rivals will "remain in touch" to build trust with each other, Indian Foreign Secretary Nirupama Rao said after talks with her Pakistani counterpart, Salman Bashir.

Rao did not say if there would be a next round of talks.

The two met in a former princely palace in a heavily guarded New Delhi neighbourhood that also houses the parliament and the presidential palace.

Rao, wearing a black and red sari, and Bashir in a dark suit shook hands in front of the camera before walking into a sprawling room for a one-on-one meeting followed by delegation-level talks.

India broke off official talks after the Mumbai attacks, saying dialogue could resume only if Pakistan acted against militants on its soil.

Re-engaging Pakistan was a politically fraught move for New Delhi, given strong Indian public opinion against talks, but a nudge from Washington and dwindling diplomatic options saw India reaching out.

Expectations from the talks were modest, and a simple pledge to continue the dialogue may be the best officials can hope for.

The two countries have squabbled over which subjects should be covered in the talks -- India wants to focus on terrorism while Pakistan eyes the disputed Himalayan region of Kashmir that has been the cause of two of their three wars.

"Terrorism is a regional, global concern. It's our concern as well," Pakistani Foreign Ministry spokesman Abdul Basit told reporters shortly before talks began.

"But Kashmir issue is the core .... It is an issue that continues to bedevil our relationship and not discussing this issue will not do justice to this meeting."

On Wednesday, Indian border guards in Kashmir came under fire from Pakistan, an Indian official said, the latest in a spate of clashes in the Himalayan region.

India accuses Pakistan of cross-border firing to help militants cross the heavily militarised frontier to join a 20-year revolt in its only Muslim-majority region. Pakistan says it only gives moral support.

The talks in New Delhi also come amid a foreboding sense in India that the bombing of a popular bakery in the western city of Pune this month, which killed at least 16 people, may herald more attacks.

A second attack like Mumbai could shake what has so far proved to be a resilient Indian economy. It could also snuff out prospects of a revival in trade between the two countries, which rose almost four-fold to $2.25 billion between 2004 and 2008.

Hundreds of police guarded the capital New Delhi where the meeting between the two foreign secretaries almost coincided with a hockey World Cup tournament this month that Islamist militants reportedly have threatened to disrupt. – Reuters




Tags: India | Pakistan | terrorism | Trade | Talks | kashmir |

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