India, Pakistan talk extremism and peace

AFP , Monday 28 Mar 2011

Estranged neighbours meet for peace talks in New Delhi to 'enhance peaceful relations'

Pakistan's Interior Secretary Qamar-uz-Zaman Chaudhry walks with Indian Border Security Force officers as he arrives on the Indian side of the border at Wagah, India, Sunday, 27 March 2011. (AP)

Top officials from India and Pakistan met for peace talks in New Delhi on Monday looking to benefit from a warming in relations brought on by some successful "cricket diplomacy."

The home secretaries of both countries are to discuss counter-terrorism, the 2008 Mumbai attacks and the drugs trade during two days of talks that are part of a formal peace process re-starting between the estranged neighbours.

"Such efforts (as the talks) between the two sides would enhance peaceful relations and promote people-to-people contact," Pakistan's Chaudhary Qamar Zaman told reporters on Sunday as he made his way to the Indian capital.

The meeting comes amid intense excitement in both countries about the semi-final of the cricket World Cup on Wednesday, which will see India play Pakistan on home turf for the first time since 2007.

Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has invited his Pakistani counterpart Yousuf Raza Gilani to watch the game with him in what will be a rare meeting between the leaders, who last sat down for talks in Bhutan in April last year.

"The entire country has appreciated this gesture of the honorable prime minister of India," Zaman added on Sunday.

Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari, who Singh also invited to the game, agreed Sunday to free an Indian national who was jailed for life more than 23 years ago.

Despite the goodwill gestures, the discussions on Monday between Indian home secretary G.K. Pillai and Zaman will be plagued by tension over the 2008 Mumbai attacks, carried out by extremists who travelled from Pakistan.

India broke off formal peace talks with its neighbour after the attack that left 166 dead and has repeatedly called on Islamabad to bring the perpetrators to justice. Pakistan has charged seven people but none has been convicted.

"It is our resolve that we would like to deter acts of terrorism in all its manifestation," a senior security official in Islamabad told AFP.

Zaman would also discuss the release of prisoners and fishermen held by both countries, and easing visa restrictions, he said.

"We are open to a very frank discussion and all issues are going to be discussed. The talks would not be confined to Mumbai attacks," the official said.

Last month, the two countries announced they would resume a formal peace dialogue with a view to resolving all issues between them, including the vexed subject of Kashmir, which is divided between them.

India and Pakistan have fought three wars since the subcontinent was partitioned in 1947, including two over Kashmir.

The international community has been pushing the two countries back to the negotiating table to help ease tensions in an already volatile region.

M.K. Bhadrakumar, a former diplomat, praised Singh for his gesture to Pakistan's leaders in inviting them to watch the cricket match on Wednesday in Mohali in Punjab state, which borders Pakistan.

"Modern history is replete with instances that show there is no alternative to top-level diplomacy if inter-state relationships that are hopelessly bogged down with past burdens are to be rescued," he wrote in The Hindu newspaper.

The relaunch of the India-Pakistan peace process, formally known as the composite dialogue, is expected to result in more contacts between the countries at high levels.

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