- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 25, 2010

NEW DELHI — India and Pakistan held wide-ranging discussions Thursday about terrorism, Kashmir and other disputes in the first talks between the rival nations since the 2008 Mumbai attacks.

India said the four-hour meeting between the nuclear-armed countries’ foreign secretaries in New Delhi was intended to begin the process of rebuilding a relationship badly damaged by that deadly siege, which India blames on Pakistan-based militants.

“We have set out to take a first step toward rebuilding trust,” Indian Foreign Secretary Nirupama Rao told reporters after the talks.

No issues were resolved in the meeting, which India billed only as “talks about talks.”

But just meeting after 15 months to reduce tensions was seen as an important achievement that could help Pakistan concentrate its resources on supporting the United States in its fight against the Taliban and al Qaeda.

Pakistan has called for the resumption of comprehensive peace talks, but India has demanded it crack down on militant groups operating from its soil first, especially Hafiz Saeed, a militant leader India accuses of orchestrating the Mumbai siege.

Ms. Rao said she reiterated to Pakistani Foreign Secretary Salman Bashir that his Islamic nation must do more to dismantle terror networks and gave him dossiers on those linked to the Mumbai attacks, an al-Qaeda-linked militant who has issued threats against India, and Indian fugitives hiding in Pakistan.

Pakistan is trying seven men on charges they planned and carried out the Mumbai attacks, which led to the deaths of 166 people, but the militant network blamed for the assault continues to operate relatively freely in the Pakistani city of Lahore.

“As far as the issue of Mumbai is concerned, Pakistan has done everything that was proper and could be done,” Mr. Bashir said.

Under repeated questioning from reporters, Mr. Bashir grew testy and said Pakistan had been hit by thousands of terror attacks and India should stop lecturing it.

“We have suffered many, many hundreds of Mumbais,” he said. “We have lost a large number of civilians who have been subjected to these attacks by terrorists. Pakistan’s No. 1 priority is to deal with terrorism.”

India also called on Pakistan to investigate reported claims of responsibility for the bombing of a cafe in the city of Pune two weeks ago, Ms. Rao said.

Pakistan used the meeting to raise broader issues including the dispute over Kashmir, allegations that India is aiding militants in the Pakistani province of Baluchistan and a conflict over shared water resources.

Mr. Bashir said the two sides need to “engage meaningfully, across the board, on all these issues.”

The United States has pushed the two sides to resume talks in hopes that a reduction in tensions would help Pakistan shift its focus from the Indian border to the offensive against Taliban militants along its border with Afghanistan.

The talks are a political risk for New Delhi because of public mistrust of Pakistan. However, the government does not want to write off diplomacy and wants to keep tensions low between the countries.

In the end, the meeting was less about the issues and more about getting two countries that have fought three wars and countless skirmishes back to the negotiating table.

There was no talk of a second meeting, but Ms. Rao said she and Mr. Bashir had agreed to remain in contact.

India is convinced that “we must not shut the door on dialogue with Pakistan and that such dialogue, if it gathers momentum, holds tremendous potential for the progress and well being of the people of our region,” she said.

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