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India, Pakistan: Fresh bid to mend ties amid Afghan crisis

By Harmeet Shah Singh, CNN
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Pakistan, India talking again
  • NEW: Indian foreign minister says peace talks laid groundwork for success
  • Peace talks were suspended after 2008 attacks on Mumbai
  • Key issues are terror battle, Kashmir dispute
  • Analysts: Tensions between nations a concern amid Taliban fight
  • India
  • Pakistan
  • Afghanistan

New Delhi, India (CNN) -- The resumption of talks between India and Pakistan on Thursday was critical in restoring trust and confidence that eroded after the 2008 terrorist attacks in Mumbai, the Indian and Pakistani foreign secretaries said Thursday.

"I think there was good chemistry between the two delegations," India's Nirupama Rao said after the meeting, where no breakthroughs were announced.

"If we are to build upon the past discussion at an appropriate time, trust and confidence between us must be restored. I believe my meeting with the Pakistani foreign secretary has constituted that first step. We have agreed to stay in touch."

Pakistan's Salman Bashir said he came to New Delhi at the invitation of Rao to "bridge our differences." He said he would not use any adjectives to characterize the talks, just that they were an honest effort to resume dialogue on the part of two nuclear-armed rivals.

From Pakistan's perspective, he said, the core issue of contention remains the disputed Himalayan territory of Kashmir and what he called human rights violations in the Indian-controlled part of the region.

He said he hoped Thursday's conversation would help focus discussion on Kashmir, a prickly subject that Rao said was briefly touched upon.

"One cannot be dismissive of this issue," Bashir said.

He also said terrorism was a pressing priority and that it was a "blight that has to be exterminated. Pakistan is determined to succeed in overcoming this menace of terrorism," he said.

Rao has pressured Pakistan to take action against Hafiz Saeed, the founder of Lashkar-e-Tayyiba, the banned Pakistani group that India accuses of orchestrating the Mumbai siege. Saeed has made inflammatory speeches against India.

"The view from the Pakistani establishment is they do not subscribe to the agenda of such persons but their laws, at the moment, do not permit them to take action against such person by virtue of speeches they make," Rao said.

Bashir said Saeed does not speak for the government of Pakistan and that anyone who accuses Pakistan of dismissing the threat of terrorism is wrong. After all, he said, Pakistan has suffered numerous attacks on civilians in recent years.

"We have suffered many, many hundreds of Mumbais," he said.

The conflict in neighboring Afghanistan was not discussed Thursday, Rao said.

India and Pakistan have fought three wars since their independence in 1947. In 2004, the nuclear-armed countries agreed to a peace process called the "composite dialogue" that covered eight issues, including Kashmir, terrorism and Pakistan's concerns over river dams on the Indian side, which it sees as a threat to its water supplies.

Successive governments on both sides of the border carried forward the talks, which they acknowledged as a means to ending their historical acrimony.

Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Pakistan President Asif Ali Zardari hailed results from the negotiations in September 2008 as the countries completed four rounds of diplomatic meetings.

In an apparent reference to the militants, both leaders vowed to defeat forces they blamed for trying to break off their dialogue.

But the bloody assault in Mumbai two months later, targeting several of the city's landmarks, led India to step back.

Since then, the Indian government has faced stiff resistance, especially from its Hindu nationalist opponents, over any new effort to renew the dialogue with Pakistan.

The South Asian nations pledged to resume talks when their prime ministers met in Egypt in July 2009.

Rao said she hoped further dialogue would stem from Thursday's talks, the first official discussions since the Mumbai attacks.