Prime Minister Vajpayee will return to the
negotiation table with Pakistan

India will appoint a new ambassador to Pakistan and resume commercial flights to its neighbour, restoring ties that were broken last year amid the threat of war.

India's prime minister on Friday also offered to hold talks to end 50 years of acrimony between the nuclear-armed rivals.

"This round of talks will be decisive,'' Atal Bihari Vajpayee told Parliament.

The Pakistani foreign ministry has welcomed the prospect of restoring diplomatic relations and expressed its willingness to reciprocate.

"Knowing Pakistan's policy...it stands to reason that we are for the upgrading of (diplomatic ties)," Kasuri told AFP in an interview.

"In due course we will," he replied when asked if Islamabad would name an ambassador to New Delhi. The formal announcement would be made by Prime Minister Zafarullah Jamali.

Indian Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee told the lower house of parliament earlier that New Delhi would restore civil aviation and diplomatic links with Pakistan, which were severed 17 months ago.

Pakistani Information Minister Sheikh Rashid hailed Vajpayee's move as "a gesture of hope" and said things were "moving fast" towards dialogue.

Restoring diplomatic ties "will facilitate the process of dialogue between the two countries," he said.

Vajpayee's announcement follows his offer of a "hand of friendship" to Pakistan on April 18 during a tour of Kashmir and comes ahead of a visit to South Asia next week by US Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage.

It falls four days after Jamali telephoned Vajpayee to invite him to Pakistan for talks. He also offered to travel to India himself.

Vajpayee's announcement however came with New Delhi's usual precondition: an end to infiltration into Indian territory by groups fighting Indian rule in Kashmir.

Pakistan denies Indian allegations that it arms, trains, and funds the rebels and sends them over the Line of Control (LoC) that divides Kashmir between India and Pakistan.

"Pakistan and India should start talking to each other rather than at each other, with India blaming us and us continuing to say there are gross human rights violations in Kashmir," Kasuri said.  

The two countries went on war footing last year after India blamed Pakistan for an attack on the Indian Parliament in December 2001. Pakistan denied involvement.

Tensions eased after intense diplomacy by the United States and Britain.

Pakistani President Musharraf has
welcomed the initiative

Last week, Vajpayee conditionally offered talks with Pakistan on Kashmir and other issues. Pakistani President General Pervez Musharraf has voiced some skepticism over the offer, but said it was a sign of improvement.

``It has been decided to appoint a high commissioner in Pakistan and to restore civil aviation links,'' Vajpayee told Parliament on Friday.

Vajpayee's comments came four days after Pakistani Prime Minister Zafarullah Khan Jamali phoned the Indian leader in the first such high-level contact in almost two years.

``We are committed to the improvement of relations with Pakistan and we are willing to grasp every opportunity for doing so,'' Vajpayee told Parliament.

Friction between the nuclear-armed neighbors has roots in a territorial dispute over the Himalayan region of Kashmir, which is divided between India and Pakistan. Both countries claim Kashmir in its entirety, and they have fought two wars over the region since their independence from Britain in 1947.

Last month, Vajpayee said he was ready for talks with Pakistan on issues including Kashmir, but repeated his demand that Islamabad cease funding, arming, training and giving shelter to Muslim fighters.

Pakistan denies it directly supports the fighters.

Vajpayee said that during the phone call Jamali condemned fighting and conveyed appreciation for the Indian leader's recent comments favoring peace.

``I emphasized the importance of economic cooperation, cultural exchanges, people-to-people contacts and civil aviation links,'' Vajpayee said of the phone conversation. He said Jamali suggested resuming sporting events between teams from the two nations.