- Associated Press - Thursday, February 10, 2011

NEW DELHI (AP) — India and Pakistan announced Thursday they would resume wide-ranging peace talks that were frozen after the 2008 terrorist attacks in the Indian city of Mumbai, which were blamed on Pakistan-based militants.

The United States has been pressing the nuclear-armed rivals to restart their peace efforts in hopes that reducing tensions along their border would free Pakistan to focus on its fight against Taliban militants — a key element of U.S. strategy in Afghanistan.

The decision followed talks Sunday between the foreign secretaries of the two countries in Bhutan, the latest in a yearlong string of meetings of top officials intended to rebuild the nations’ shattered trust.

A statement released simultaneously in New Delhi and Islamabad said the new talks would focus on counterterrorism, humanitarian issues, peace and security, the disputed Kashmir region and other border issues.

It did not say when talks would begin, but Pakistani Foreign Minister Makhdoom Shah Mahmood Qureshi will visit India by July to review their progress.

Pakistan Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani welcomed the talks and praised his Indian counterpart, Manmohan Singh, for the “opening of a new chapter in the relations between the two countries, which Pakistan fully reciprocates.”

But there is little expectation of a rapid agreement to end the six-decade conflict between the bitter rivals. Even if negotiators managed to bridge the gaps on everything from regional water sharing to sovereignty over a disputed creek, there is no guarantee the shaky Pakistani government, or even the more stable Indian administration, could sell such a deal to their parliaments and their people.

India and Pakistan have fought three wars — two of them over Kashmir — since they won independence from Britain in 1947. Kashmir is divided between the two countries, both of which claim the Himalayan territory in its entirety.

New Delhi broke off reportedly fruitful peace efforts after 10 militants from Pakistan laid siege to the financial capital of Mumbai in November 2008, killing 166 people.

India has accused Pakistani intelligence of being intricately involved in the planning of that attack, and insisted it would not return to the negotiating table until Pakistan cracks down on Lashkar-e-Taiba, the militant group blamed for carrying it out.

Pakistani officials have bristled at criticism they are not doing enough, noting that seven suspects in the Mumbai attacks have been put on trial. Islamabad says it needs more evidence from Indian investigators to make additional indictments.

But India has criticized Pakistan‘s handling of the prosecution. The trial has been slowed by several procedural delays, and the judge has been changed three times. By contrast, the only gunman to survive the assault, Ajmal Kasab, has been sentenced to death in India

Indian officials did not offer any explanation Thursday as to why they changed their minds.

“It’s a manifestation of confusion and indecision by the Indian government,” said G. Parthasarthy, former Indian high commissioner to Pakistan.

The government only initiated the first peace talks, which began in 2004, after receiving assurances from Pakistan that it would not allow its territory to be used for attacks on India, he said. This time, no such assurance was given, he said.

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