ISLAMABAD: The foreign ministers of nuclear-armed rivals Pakistan and India on Thursday opened their first key talks in Islamabad since the 2008 Mumbai attacks derailed a peace process.
The talks are the third high-level contact in six months and the foreign ministers` first meeting since 10 Islamist gunmen killed 166 people in 60 hours of carnage in India`s financial capital two years ago.
The agenda is likely to be dominated by Indian concerns about terrorism, violence in India-administered Kashmir, rivalry in Afghanistan and allegations that Pakistan`s intelligence agency was behind the 2008 attacks.
India`s S.M. Krishna and Pakistan`s Shah Mehmood Qureshi shook hands and went into talks at the foreign ministry, part of the heavily guarded "Red Zone" that is home to government and diplomatic missions in the centre of Islamabad.
But the meeting has been overshadowed by comments that an Indian newspaper attributed to India`s senior civil servant in the home ministry, G. K. Pillai, blaming Pakistani intelligence for masterminding the 2008 Mumbai attacks.
India and the United States accused Pakistani militant group Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) over the bloody siege, which India considers its own September 11.
Pakistan has admitted that the attacks were planned partly on its soil and an anti-terrorism court has charged seven suspects in connection with the violence, including alleged mastermind Zakiur Rehman Lakhvi.
Indian newspapers called on Krishna to spell out alleged new evidence that Pakistan`s intelligence agency orchestrated the Mumbai attacks.
Pillai told the Indian Express newspaper that the level of involvement of Pakistan`s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) had become clear through recent questioning of David Headley, a suspect under arrest in the United States.
Headley, the US-born son of a former Pakistani diplomat and an American woman, was arrested in Chicago last year and has pleaded guilty to scouting the hotels and other sites in Mumbai that were targeted by the militants.
"Foreign Minister S. M. Krishna to nail Pak using David Headley," shrieked the front-page of the Hindustan Times,
The meeting, however, aroused scant interest in Pakistan`s editorials.
Analysts say the talks are unlikely to yield any concrete agreement beyond possible trust-building measures that could help ease deep distrust.
Krishna on Wednesday conveyed a message of "peace and friendship" but called on Islamabad to act decisively against terrorism.
"We hope to undertake the voyage of peace, however long and arduous," the Press Trust of India (PTI) news agency quoted him as telling reporters.
"Pakistan must realise that India harbours no ill-will against it and the cancer of terrorism needs to be rooted out completely," Krishna said. "There can be no selective efforts against this scourge."
Relations between the two countries, which have fought three wars since the subcontinent was divided in 1947, have been plagued by border and resource disputes, and accusations of Pakistani militant activity aimed at India.
Pakistan foreign ministry spokesman Abdul Basit said the talks would be approached "with a positive mindset" and cover "all issues".
Pakistan is likely to raise the issues of India`s control of regional water resources and Kashmir, where the Indian army is currently trying to quell protests after being accused of killing civilians.
India and Pakistan have fought two of their wars over the disputed region and Kashmiri militants have been fighting New Delhi`s rule for two decades in an insurgency that has claimed tens of thousands of lives.
India and Pakistan`s prime ministers met in April on the sidelines of a regional summit in Bhutan, which set in motion the process of reviving suspended contacts at different levels of government.
The thaw has been encouraged by Western allies, in particular the United States, which sees regional stability as key to winning the war in Afghanistan and has pushed Pakistan to fight Taliban insurgents.
BDST: 1219 HRS, July 15, 2010