NEW DELHI: Top diplomats from India and Pakistan met Tuesday in New Delhi to prepare the ground for the first foreign minister peace talks in a year between the two countries.
Indian foreign secretary Nirupama Rao welcomed her counterpart Salman Bashir for closed-door discussions ahead of the meeting between Indian Foreign Minister SM Krishna and Pakistan’s Hina Rabbani Khar on Wednesday.
India suspended peace talks with Pakistan after the 2008 Mumbai attacks.
Since then, both countries have taken tentative steps to get the process back on track, focusing on basic confidence-building measures (CBMs) and leaving aside core territorial disputes.
“This meeting will look at what are the series of steps we can take in the months to come,” a top foreign ministry official said during a weekend briefing, on condition of anonymity.
“We will announce some CBMs and there will be more meetings in the future and it would be good if we can expand the scope for people-to-people contacts,” the source said.
Interest in Wednesday’s foreign minister meeting has been piqued by the recent appointment of Khar as top diplomat.
Khar, 34, Pakistan’s first female foreign minister and the youngest to occupy the post, arrives in New Delhi on Tuesday. Her counterpart Krishna is 45 years her senior.
Analysts say trade and border issues, allowing freer movement of people and goods across the heavily militarised border, offer both sides the chance to make advances.
US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said last week during a trip to India that she was “encouraged” by the dialogue between Indian and Pakistani leaders.
But there is little chance that this week’s discussions will lead to progress in resolving the issues that have bedevilled the neighbours’ relations for the last 60 years, bringing instability to South Asia.
India is expected to press for more progress on tackling militants in Pakistan, while Pakistan is eager to address the vexed problem of the divided region of Kashmir.
Alexander Neil, an Asia analyst at the London-based Royal United Services Institute (RUSI), said that levels of distrust between the two countries were still far too high to push the dialogue ahead in any meaningful way.
“Public statements will be made on cooperation against terrorism but in reality there will not be any substantive progress… and the net result, I am sure, is simply that the status quo is maintained,” Neil told AFP last week.
India suspended a four-year peace process with Pakistan after the attacks on its financial capital Mumbai on November 26, 2008, which left 166 people dead.
The attacks were blamed on banned Lashkar-e-Taiba group and Islamabad acknowledged that the plot was hatched at least partly on its soil.
“India is ready to discuss all issues with an open mind and will push for speedy justice for victims of the 26/11 Mumbai carnage,” a senior Indian government official said last week.
In February, the two countries announced that peace talks would resume after a meeting in Bhutan.