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India restores ties with Pakistan

Vajpayee has offered to open talks with Pakistan on Kashmir.
Vajpayee has offered to open talks with Pakistan on Kashmir.

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SPECIAL REPORT
• Timeline: Kashmir history
• In-depth: Where conflict rules

NEW DELHI, India (CNN) -- India has said it will restore full diplomatic ties with Pakistan, appointing a new ambassador to Islamabad and renewing air links between the two neighbors.

Ties with Islamabad were cut last year as both sides moved to the brink of war during a tense standoff over the Kashmir region, sparked by a militant attack on India's parliament.

"It has been decided to appoint a high commissioner in Pakistan and to restore civil aviation links," Indian Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee told Parliament on Friday.

"We're committed to the improvement of relations with Pakistan and are willing to grasp at every opportunity for doing so."

Pakistani Information Minister Sheikh Rashid Ahmed responded positively from Islamabad. "We appreciate this decision. This is a good gesture," he said. "It is a good start."

Calling it a "good step in the right direction in normalizing relations," diplomatic sources told CNN they expected Islamabad to reciprocate soon, possibly sometime Friday.

The quickly developing diplomatic situation came only days after Pakistan's Prime Minister Mir Zafarullah Jamali called Vajpayee -- the first contact between the leaders in 18 months -- saying he was prepared to work to resolve all issues between the countries.

The breakthrough came as U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage prepared to visit both countries next month to launch a new round of diplomatic efforts to diminish tensions between them.

Ties with Islamabad were cut last year as both sides moved to the brink of war during a tense standoff over the Kashmir region, sparked by a deadly attack on India's parliament, blamed on militants tied to Pakistan.

The disputed state of Kashmir has been central to issues between India and Pakistan.

Vajpayee announced last month he was willing to open talks with Pakistan on Kashmir, providing Islamabad stops what he called "cross-border infiltration" into the Indian part of Kashmir.

"We are ready to talk on all the issues including Kashmir," Ahmed said. "We are going to resolve the overall issue."

India blames Pakistan for arming, training and encouraging cross-border militancy that has claimed over 30,000 lives in the Himalayan territory since a separatism movement took root in 1989.

Pakistan denies the charges and insists it provides only moral and diplomatic support for the Kashmiri people's right to self-determination.

India controls two-thirds of the region, Pakistan the other third. Each country claims Kashmir as its own. India and Pakistan have fought two of their three wars over Kashmir.

-- CNN New Delhi Bureau Chief Satinder Bindra contributed to this report


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