India and Pakistan have set a date to restart diplomatic talks for the first time since the 2008 attacks on the Indian city of Mumbai.
High-level diplomats from the two countries are scheduled to meet on February 25 in New Delhi, more than a year after the attacks that India has blamed on Pakistan-based fighters.
Mani Shankar Aiyer, a former Indian envoy to Pakistan, said the relaunch of talks is of “overriding national importance”.
“In my view [it is] the highest priority in Indian foreign policy that we arrive at some way of being able to run our relationship with Pakistan on a smooth track,” he told Al Jazeera.
New Delhi suspended a four-year-old peace process with Pakistan following the co-ordinated attacks at several Mumbai locations in November 2008 that left more than 160 people dead.
India says the attacks were carried out by the Pakistan-based armed group Lashkar-e-Taiba and has demanded Islamabad bring the culprits to justice before talks can resume.
Tensions over Kashmir
India and Pakistan launched talks in 2004 to resolve several disputes between the two countries, including the dispute over the region of Kashmir.
Kashmir is divided between India and Pakistan, who both claim sovereignty over all the territory.
But increasing tensions in the Himalayan region threaten to overshadow the relaunch of talks.
Clashes erupted in Srinagar, the capital of Indian-administered Kashmir, on Thursday, between Indian security forces and demonstrators protesting against the death of a teen by police during an earlier protest in the region on Sunday.
Armed Muslim groups have been fighting for independence from India or a merging with its neighbour Pakistan since 1989, with almost 70,000 people being killed during the conflict.
Some armed groups say the issue of Kashmir should be central to any talks between India and Pakistan.
Syed Salahuddin, supreme commander of the separatist Hizb-ul-Mujahideen, said there would be no result from the talks unless the issue of the status of Kashmir is “addressed and focused upon”.
“The talks must be Kashmir-centric, tripartite and there should be a time frame. Then it is useful to go and get engaged, otherwise not,” he says.
Al Jazeera’s Prerna Suri, reporting from New Delhi, said opposition leaders in India are also opposing the relaunch of talks, arguing that Pakistan must first crack down on armed fighters
“Domestic political parties are now upping the pressure on the ruling government, saying that [if] Pakistan doesn’t clamp down on these groups, these talks will prove to be futile,” she said.
“Using this to their political advantage are parties like the right-wing Hindu BJP, who say India is bowing to American pressure to resume dialogue.”