India and Pakistan restart peace process

India and Pakistan held talks on peace and security issues in Islamabad on Thursday, part of efforts to stabilise South Asia as the United States prepares to withdraw troops from Afghanistan.

Concerns over terrorism are likely to dominate India’s agenda in light of the killing of Osama bin Laden in Pakistan by troops from the United States, and the collapse of the two nations’ four-year peace process that took place after gunmen killed 166 people in Mumbai in November 2008.

India blamed the attack on Pakistani militants from the banned Lashkar-e-Taiba group and Islamabad acknowledged that the plot was hatched at least partly on its soil.

Ending a more than two-year stand-off, the two countries announced, after a meeting in February between Pakistani foreign secretary Salman Bashir and his Indian counterpart Nirupama Rao, that peace talks would resume.

Rao said she had come “with an open mind and a constructive spirit” to work towards building “trust and confidence” that would eventually lead to a normalisation of relations between the nuclear-armed rivals.

Kashmir takes centre stage
Both sides say talks will focus on the fate of the divided Himalayan region of Kashmir, peace and security and confidence building, in preparation for a scheduled visit by Pakistan’s foreign minister to India next month.

“We expect that the talks will be positive and forward looking,” Pakistani foreign ministry spokesperson Tehmina Janjua said. A senior Pakistani ministry official said the talks started around 3.30 pm (11.30am GMT).

No breakthroughs are expected, but the contacts are considered a key element of efforts to stabilise the region after US President Barack Obama announced on Wednesday evening the start of US troop withdrawals from Afghanistan.

The international community has been pushing the two sides to get back to the negotiating table to help ease tensions in an already volatile region.

“We have to be patient, realistic and positive,” Indian Foreign Minister SM Krishna said this week, calling for terrorism to be dealt with “firmly and transparently”.

Nuclear safety
New Delhi has long accused its neighbour of harbouring militant groups, but analysts say it is becoming increasingly concerned that growing unrest in Pakistan could compromise the safety of the country’s nuclear arsenal.

Relations between India and Pakistan, which have fought three wars since the subcontinent was partitioned in 1947, have been plagued by border and resource disputes, and accusations of Pakistani militant activity against India.

Two of the three wars were over Kashmir, where militants have been fighting New Delhi’s rule for two decades in an insurgency that has claimed tens of thousands of lives.

After the Mumbai carnage, Delhi and Islamabad began to explore a resumption of structured talks last year, and Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and his Pakistani counterpart Yousuf Raza Gilani met in Thimphu in April 2010.

Talks on the disputed Himalayan glacier of Siachen, where troops have clashed intermittently since 1984, concluded a month ago without progress.

“There will be no major breakthrough in the talks but I am sure that the process will now go on to enable the two countries to discuss and sort out issues,” said Pakistani foreign policy analyst AH Nayyar.

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