x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 16 January 2018

Reluctant neighbours India and Pakistan meet and make pointed demands

Delhi, still scarred by the 2008 attack on Mumbai, says Pakistan must stave militancy while Islamabad says it is a bigger victim.

NEW DELHI // India and Pakistan resumed diplomatic ties yesterday with a brief meeting in Delhi between the Indian foreign secretary Nirupama Rao and her Pakistani counterpart, Salman Bashir. The pair met for one and a half hours, followed by an hour-long meeting between each country's five-member delegation. Ms Rao then hosted a formal lunch for the Pakistani delegation.

"The discussions were useful, detailed, candid. There was good chemistry and transparency between delegations. Both the sides gained from it," Ms Rao told reporters later in a press conference. This is the first official contact between the two countries since the Mumbai attack on Noveber 26, 2008, but relations remain strained. No joint communique was released and no date set for further discussions, although Ms Rao said, "We have promised to be in touch." India handed over three new "dossiers" outlining action it wants Pakistan to take against militant activity inside its borders. Delhi is demanding concrete results before it will resume the "composite dialogue".

"We told them that 26/11 investigations have not been satisfactory, while they responded by saying that they themselves had a spate of terror attacks in their country and were in the process of prosecuting the Mumbai culprits," Ms Rao said. Pakistan wants the dialogue to resume immediately, with an emphasis on the intractable issue of Kashmir. "India has had one 26/11, we have had one thousand Mumbais," Mr Bashir told reporters later yesterday. "It is unfair, unrealistic and counterproductive to make issue of terrorism in a generic way and stall the process of overall relations between both the countries."

Mr Bashir also raised the issue of Balochistan. Islamabad accuses India of fomenting unrest in its south-western and resource rich province, an accusation India denies. "Pakistan clearly wants the peace talks and the composite dialogue to go forward but clearly India doesn't - not because it doesn't, but because it wants Pakistan to accept a certain sense of moral responsibility for 26/11 and terrorism in general," said Subhash Agrawal, editor of India Focus.

Ms Rao said India demanded the arrest of Hafez Mohammad Saeed, the founder of Lashkar-i-Taiba, the Kashmiri militant group believed to be behind the Mumbai attacks. Mr Saeed has been making public statements lately that have enraged Indian public opinion, calling most recently for a resumption of dialogue on Kashmir. "The Indian government and the public opinion here does not buy the argument that these are non-state actors," said BG Verghese, at the Centre for Policy Research in Delhi. "They are at large, and these are banned groups that rename themselves and parade around ... baying for blood and saying we need another 26/11."

Mr Bashir described the Indian file on Mr Saeed as "a piece of literature". The resumption of talks, however brief and inconclusive, was welcomed by observers overseas, with the US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton telling a Senate panel on Wednesday that the United States was "encouraged" by the development. The US brought intense pressure to bear on both parties to bring them back to the table. The relationship is considered vital to regional stability, especially as the United States prepares to withdraw from Afghanistan.

Mrs Clinton said prior talks between the Indian prime minister, Manmohan Singh, and former Pakistan president Pervez Musharraf "had actually been quite productive, particularly in producing results on the ground in Kashmir." Majority Muslim Kashmir is at the heart of the India-Pakistan dispute. Starting in 1989, a separatist insurgency against Indian rule has killed at least 50,000 people. Most militants want Kashmir to become part of Pakistan, although many Kashmiris want full independence from both countries.

Mr Bashir met with Kashmiri separatist leaders prior to the Rao meeting, and spoke yesterday to the foreign minister, SK Krishna, and the national security adviser, Shiv Shankar Menon, a close ally of Mr Singh. The prime minister is known to take a long view of the India-Pakistan dispute, and has been urging a resolution in order to allow India to focus instead upon building its economy and regional stature.

The Pakistan delegation is expected to return to Islamabad this morning. foreign.desk@thenational.ae