India, Pakistan to hold July talks

India, Pakistan to hold July talks

New Delhi/Islamabad: Indian foreign minister S.M. Krishna said on Tuesday he will visit Islamabad on 15 July for talks on restarting stalled peace negotiations, raising hopes of an improvement in ties between the nuclear-armed rival countries.

Relations between the two countries went into a diplomatic freeze after India blamed Pakistan-based militants for the Mumbai attacks in November 2008, which killed 166 people.

Efforts to normalise ties come at an important time for Pakistan. Islamabad is under fresh US pressure to send troops into the militant hub of North Waziristan following a failed bombing in New York city tied to the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), the Taliban Movement of Pakistan.

“I’m looking forward to these talks," Krishna told a news conference in the Indian capital after accepting the invitation from Pakistani foreign minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi during a 25-minute telephone conversation on Tuesday.

“Let us hope that these talks will be helpful in bringing our two countries closer together and let’s hope that our efforts will be fruitful," Krishna said.

“It was a good conversation that we had," Qureshi told a news conference in Islamabad, adding he would come to New Delhi for a next round of talks.

The emergence of a roadmap to normalise ties is good news for the United States, which is keen for peace between the two countries, as their proxy war for influence in Afghanistan is seen as hampering Washington-led efforts to bring peace there.

An easing of tensions along Pakistan’s eastern borders with India would also make Islamabad more willing to commit troops to a possible ground operation in North Waziristan which officials say is home to a number of militant groups.

New Delhi has long complained about Islamabad not cracking down on Pakistani-based militants launching deadly attacks inside India over the disputed Kashmir region and elsewhere in the country. India has also blamed Pakistani groups for attacks on its diplomats in Afghanistan.

Thaw in Bhutan

But in recent months efforts have intensified on getting peace talks back on. Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and his Pakistani counterpart Yousuf Raza Gilani met last month while in Bhutan for a summit of South Asian leaders, their first meeting in nine months.

The two leaders then agreed that their foreign ministers and foreign secretaries should work out how to move talks forward to tackle outstanding issues between the countries.

On Tuesday, Qureshi also said Indian home (interior) minister Palaniappan Chidambaram would visit Islamabad on 26 June for a meeting of interior ministers from the region and hold bilateral talks on the sidelines.

India had earlier been demanding that Pakistan first act against the planners of the Mumbai attacks before it could discuss wider issues key to normalising ties.

Re-engaging Islamabad is a politically fraught move from New Delhi, given strong Indian sensitivities about Pakistan, but a nudge from Washington and dwindling diplomatic options stemming from no talks saw India reaching out.

Singh has defied pressure from opposition parties and pressed ahead with his desire to improve ties.

Qureshi warned that “elements" could try to disrupt the process and urged that “we will not allow acts of terrorism to impede the process".

“We should built it to a level that it becomes irreversible."