After 14-month hiatus, India and Pakistan begin talks

New Delhi, Feb 25 (IANS) The foreign secretaries of India and Pakistan Thursday began official talks here, the first formal engagement since the Mumbai terror attacks 14 months ago.

Foreign Secretary Nirupama Rao greeted her Pakistani counterpart Salman Bashir at Hyderabad House as the two top officials along with their delegations sat down for talks, aimed at breaking the deadlock in bilateral ties.

‘We look forward to our talks,’ Rao told reporters outside Hyderabad House.

‘Hyderabad House is a familiar venue. We look forward to a very, good constructive arrangement,’ a smiling Bashir added before going inside for the talks.

Besides Rao, the Indian team included India’s High Commissioner to Islamabad Sharat Sabharwal, joint secretary in charge of Pakistan Y.K. Sinha, ministry of external affairs (MEA) spokesperson Vishnu Prakash and other officials of the MEA.

The Pakistani delegation comprised Afrasiab, director-general of the South Asia division and a former deputy high commissioner to India, Pakistan’s High Commissioner Shahid Malik, Pakistan’s Foreign Office spokesperson Abdul Basit and other senior officials.

The delegation-level talks are expected to last for at least two hours.

Rao will host a lunch for the Pakistani delegation.

The two sides have made it clear that although they have their differing core concerns, they are going into these crucial talks with ‘an open mind’.

For India, the core concern is terrorism and the alleged use of Pakistani territory by anti-India terror outfits, but it is willing to discuss other issues. Pakistan has made it clear that it will focus on the Kashmir dispute and other issues like sharing of river waters.

The Pakistani delegation will also call on National Security Adviser Shivshankar Menon, a former foreign secretary and a former Indian envoy to Islamabad, Thursday evening. On Friday morning, the Pakistanis will call on External Affairs Minister S.M. Krishna before heading back to Islamabad.

The outcome of the talks is expected to determine the future trajectory of engagement between the two neighbours.

Indian and Pakistani leaders met at Sharm-el-Sheikh in Egypt last year. But this is the first structured dialogue since the Mumbai attack in November 2008 that put the brakes on the composite dialogue between the two countries.

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