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Central & South Asia
India and Pakistan begin talks
The last round was suspended after the attack on Mumbai in November 2008.
Last Modified: 25 Feb 2010 13:03 GMT
Nirupama Rao, left, met with Salman Bashir, right, her Pakistani counterpart, on Thursday [AFP]

India and Pakistan have begun their first official talks since the 2008 attacks on the Indian city of Mumbai, as the nuclear-armed neighbours seek to bring a thaw to chilly relations.

Salman Bashir, Pakistan's foreign secretary, and Nirupama Rao, his Indian counterpart, met on Thursday in New Delhi for discussions that were expected to include talks on counterterrorism and the dispute over Kashmir.

Bashir arrived in India on Wednesday amid tensions in Kashmir, saying he was "hopeful of a positive outcome".

"We want to discuss and resolve all disputes with India," he said before leaving Pakistan.

"We want the process of engagement to continue.

"It's an open agenda and nothing is excluded. Pakistan's credentials in counter-terrorism are second to none and the international community appreciates Pakistan's efforts."

But Indian officials have said they want the talks to focus on complaints that Pakistan has not done enough to fight armed groups who have carried out attacks in India.

"Our core concern is going to be terror," SM Krishna, India's foreign minister, told the NDTV news channel last week.

Talks opposed

Al Jazeera's Kamal Hyder, reporting from the Pakistani capital of Islamabad, said there are political groups in both Pakistan and India that oppose the talks.

"Already opposition groups within Pakistan have said there is no use to the talks because the Indians have not been flexible and have already said that they are not willing to talk on a few issues," he said.

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"There is a realisation here that there is a lot to talk about and a great distance to cover to remove the distrust.

"There has to be a great effort on the part of both these countries if they are serious about trying to hammer out their differences."

The two nuclear-armed nations have had a rocky history, having fought three wars since winning independence from British colonial rule in 1947.

The last round of peace talks were suspended in November 2008 after armed men launched an attack in the heart of Mumbai, India's sprawling financial capital, killing 166 people, and wounding more than 300 others.

New Delhi blamed the assault on a Pakistan-based armed group, and accused Islamabad of failing to curb anti-Indian outfits.

Relations have since thawed following a Pakistani crackdown on those suspected of having links to Lashkar-e-Taiba, the banned group accused of orchestrating the attacks.

Kashmir dispute

The divided region of Kashmir has been another recurring sore spot for the two countries.

Both sides claim the predominantly Muslim region in its entirety and have fought two wars over it in the past.

On the eve of renewed dialogue, the issue has again flared up, with Indian border guards in Kashmir saying they have been fired atfrom the Pakistani side.

The Indian army also said three soldiers were killed in a major battle with fighters in Indian-administered Kashmir.

Sajjad Haider, the editor of the daily Kashmir Observer newspaper, said expectations for the talks are "muted" within Kashmir.

"Expectations in the past were high, but this time very few are the people with high expectations," he told Al Jazeera.

"[The people of Kashmir] are not represented at all.

"These are talks between two countries. Leaders from the main separatist lines in Delhi have already met the Pakistani foreign secretary and conveyed their concerns for the exclusion of Kashmiris from fresh talks."

India accuses Pakistan of allowing fighters to cross its border, a charge Islamabad denies. Pakistan has, however, called for the disputed region to be the focus of Thursday's talks.

New Delhi says it wants to focus on counterterrorism - a desire made more urgent by a bomb blast at a restaurant in the Indian city of Pune just over a week ago, which killed 16 people.

Source:
Al Jazeera and agencies
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