India and Pakistan meet for peace talks

India and Pakistan meet for peace talks

India and Pakistan held high-level peace talks today for the first time since the 2008 Mumbai terror attacks in an attempt to reduce tension between them.

The one-day talks in New Delhi between their foreign secretaries is seen as an important achievement that could help Pakistan concentrate its resources on supporting the West in its fight against the Taliban and al-Qaida.

Few were expecting any breakthroughs on the divisive issues that have sparked three wars and countless skirmishes between the neighbours over the past six decades.

Indian Home Minister Palaniappan Chidambaram said he was "not very optimistic" about the talks.

The talks have no agenda and either side can bring up any issues it wants to, "but we are not going to enter into substantive talks on every issue", he said.

Indian Foreign Secretary Nirupama Rao and Pakistani Foreign Secretary Salman Bashir smiled briefly for the television cameras before disappearing into their closed-door meeting.

"We look forward to a very good constructive engagement," Mr Bashir said.

India, which played down the meeting as only "talks about talks", plans to ask Pakistan to give it access to the architects of the Mumbai attacks and will push it to arrest militants and dismantle their networks, Mr Chidambaram said.

While Pakistan is trying seven men on charges they planned and carried out the Mumbai attacks, the militant network blamed for the assault continues to operate relatively freely in the Pakistani city of Lahore.

Pakistan has said it will call for the resumption of comprehensive peace negotiations to deal with everything from the dispute over the Kashmir region to disagreements over shared water resources. India refuses to reopen those talks until Pakistan wages a militant crackdown.

"Nothing may come out of these talks. But at least we have to make the effort to talk to them and bring into focus issues that need to be addressed with a sense of urgency," Mr Chidambaram said.

The United States, which is intent on eliminating all distractions from Pakistan's fight against militants along its frontier with Afghanistan, has pushed the two sides to resume talks.

It hopes that a reduction in tensions would help Pakistan shift its focus from the Indian border to the offensive against the Taliban in its north-west.

The talks are a political risk for New Delhi because of public mistrust of Pakistan. However, the government does not want to write off diplomacy and wants to keep tensions low between the countries.

Both sides hope the meeting will at least lead to further discussions between the two nations.

In a sign of the daily tensions that still confront the neighbours, a gun battle yesterday between Indian forces and suspected Muslim insurgents in Indian-controlled Kashmir killed three soldiers and three suspected rebels, as firing from across the border injured an Indian soldier, officials said.

India accuses Pakistan of training Muslim militants in the disputed region, which both countries lay claim to. Pakistan disputes that. The region lies at the heart of much of the tension between the countries.

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