|Nirupama Rao, left, and Salman Bashir held talks in the Bhutanese capital Thimphu on Sunday [EPA]
India and Pakistan have agreed to resume formal peace talks after a meeting between Nirupama Rao, the Indian foreign secretary, and Salman Bashir, her Pakistani counterpart, in the Bhutanese capital Thimphu.
A statement released simultaneously in New Delhi and Islamabad on Thursday said the new talks would focus on counter-terrorism, humanitarian issues, peace and security, the disputed Kashmir region and other border issues.
The two sides had agreed to the talks following the discussions in Thimphu which took place on Sunday.
The talks, expected to start by July, would be the first since New Delhi broke off peace negotiations after gunmen unleashed a series of attacks in the port city of Mumbai in 2008.
Yousuf Raza Gilani, the Pakistan prime minister, welcomed the talks and praised his Indian counterpart, Manmohan Singh, for the "opening of a new chapter in the relations between the two countries, which Pakistan fully reciprocates".
Rao said that sincere effort was needed to take the process forward and said that eventual normalisation would be good for both countries and most importantly for sustained economic growth and development.
"We never turned back on dialogue with Pakistan. Door for talks was never shut even after Mumbai attacks. Our prime minister, foreign minister met Pakistani leaders on a number of occasions," Rao told Al Jazeera.
Rao said that both the countries would discuss all outstanding issues like counter-terrorism, Kashmir and people to people exchange.
She said: "We are for a comprehensive, serious and sustained dialogue."
A former Indian diplomat criticised the government's decision to resume talks.
"It's a manifestation of confusion and indecision by the Indian government," said G Parthasarthy, former Indian high commissioner to Pakistan.
Kalim Bahadur, a retired professor of South Asian studies at Jawaharlal Nehru University in New Delhi said: "At the moment, nobody can really say what precise form these resumed talks will take or what they might achieve."
"The so-called 'trust-deficit' is still very apparent, so I really don't see where this can lead in the short-term."
A Pakistani expert attributed India's change in stand to foreign pressure.
"I think the Indians have realised that their policy [of not having formal talks] was not paying any dividends," said Talat Masood, a former Pakistani army general and analyst.
"I think there is also some sort of foreign pressure, the American pressure that it's much better in the interest of Afghanistan that they improve their relationship."
Prior to the foreign ministers' meeting, secretary-level talks will be held on a wide-range of issues, including the territorial dispute over Kashmir.
They will also discuss counter-terrorism topics such as progress on the trial in Pakistan of seven men charged over the Mumbai attacks.
New Delhi broke off reportedly fruitful peace efforts after armed men reportedly from Pakistan laid siege to the financial capital of Mumbai in November 2008, killing 166 people.
India has consistently demanded that Pakistan act against fighters on its soil.
Islamabad, which is fighting domestic Taliban and other armed groups, says it is doing all it can and has demanded that New Delhi provide evidence to back its accusations.
India has accused Pakistani intelligence of being intricately involved in the planning of that attack, and insisted it would not return to the negotiating table until Pakistan cracks down on Lashkar-e-Taiba, group blamed for carrying it out.
Meanwhile, Pakistan has called on New Delhi to take action against those responsible for the February 18, 2007, bombing of a train on the Pakistan-India route that killed 68 passengers, mostly Pakistani citizens.
The announcement of talks is likely to be welcomed by the international community which had been pushing both countries back to the negotiating table to help ease tensions in an already volatile region.
Washington has been pressing the nuclear-armed rivals to restart their peace efforts in hopes that reducing tensions along their border would free Pakistan to focus on its fight against the Taliban - a key element of US strategy in Afghanistan.
Source: Al Jazeera and agencies