Navtej Sarna, a ministry spokesman, said on Monday: "It has been agreed that dialogue will be launched on the 17th and 18th of January."

 

The spokesman said the talks between the foreign secretaries of the two countries in New Delhi would cover issues of "peace and security" and Kashmir.

 

India and Pakistan began talks in January 2004 to resolve all disputes dating back to 1947 when the subcontinent was partitioned at independence.

 

But they have made little headway in resolving their competing claims to Kashmir, the Himalayan region they have fought two wars over since independence.

 

Tasnim Aslam, Pakistan's Foreign Ministry spokeswoman, also said railway officials would discuss reopening a rail link between Munabao in India and the Pakistani border town of Khokhrapar which was terminated after a war between the two countries in 1965.

 

In the past two years, Pakistan and India have taken steps to bury a history of enmity. They have restored air, rail and bus links, and held wide-ranging talks to address their differences.

 

Pakistani prisoners freed

 

Eight Pakistanis arrived home on Monday after being freed from jails in India as part of peace efforts.

 

Mohammed Sarwar, a Pakistani border guard, said Indian authorities handed over the former prisoners to Pakistani officials at Wagah, the main border crossing between the countries, near the eastern Pakistani city of Lahore.

 

Freed Pakistani prisoners arrived
home from India on Monday

He said the released prisoners included a teenage boy and a teenage girl.

 

As part of the peace process, the two governments have agreed to expedite the releases of each other's prisoners, often jailed after straying accidentally across the border and accused of spying.

 

The freed boy was only 12 when he was arrested after he strayed into India while visiting Wagah with friends from his home in eastern Punjab province.

 

Altaf Shah, now 16, was convicted of illegal entry and spent time in various Indian jails.

 

He said: "Now I don't know where I will go. I don't have any idea about where my parents are. But I am happy that I have got my life back and I am back in my own country."

 

Sarwar said the prisoners would be questioned by Pakistani authorities before being allowed to go home.