Nuke rivals to resume peace talks
India and Pakistan took a significant step towards resuming their frozen peace dialogue yesterday as their prime ministers held direct talks for the first time in nine months.
During the discussions in the Bhutanese capital Thimphu, which both sides described as positive, the two leaders agreed that their respective foreign ministers would meet soon to draw up a road map for future talks.
The officials would work out "the modalities of restoring trust and confidence in the relationship and thus paving the way for a substantive dialogue on all issues of mutual concern", Indian Foreign Secretary Nirupama Rao told reporters.
Pakistan's Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi said the decision not to restrict the agenda of future talks was "a step in the right direction".
Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and his Pakistani counterpart, Yousuf Raza Gilani, met for 90 minutes on the sidelines of the eight-nation South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (Saarc) summit under way in Thimphu.
India broke off a peace dialogue with Pakistan after the Mumbai attacks November 2008 that left 166 people dead.
Since then, it has repeatedly rebuffed Pakistani calls for a resumption, insisting that Islamabad has not done enough to bring the Pakistan-based militants that India blames for the carnage to justice.
During the talks with Gilani, Rao said the Indian prime minister was "very emphatic that Pakistan has to act, that the terror machine needs to be controlled, needs to be eliminated".
The last time Singh and Gilani sat down together was in July, on the sidelines of a Non-Aligned Movement's summit in Egypt.
That meeting ended with a joint statement that action on terrorism "should not be linked" to peace talks -- a formula that saw Singh pilloried at home for undermining India's insistence that Pakistan must first crack down on militant groups.
As a result, their next meeting, at the Washington summit earlier this month on nuclear security, went no further than a handshake and a cursory exchange of pleasantries.
In between, the two sides managed a meeting between their senior foreign ministry officials in February, which resulted in little more than a vague pledge to keep the doors to dialogue open.
The talks in Thimphu offered no timetable for when the two foreign ministers would meet, saying only that it would happen "as soon as possible".
Observers believe the decision to talk in Thimphu was forced in part by the annoyance of other SAARC members who feel that Indo-Pakistan tensions have all too often blocked the organisation's efforts to foster regional cooperation.
That sense of frustration was voiced on Tuesday by Saarc's smallest member, the Maldives, whose president, Mohammed Nasheed, broke with protocol, which traditionally precludes public mention of bilateral disputes.
"I hope neighbours can find ways to compartmentalise their differences while finding ways to move forward," Nasheed said in his speech at summit's opening.
"I am of course referring to India and Pakistan. I hope this summit will lead to greater dialogue between them," he said.
The bitter South Asian rivals have fought three wars since the subcontinent's 1947 partition. They are currently locked in a struggle for influence in Afghanistan, which joined Saarc in 2007.
The organisation's membership comprises Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, the Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka.