Top Indian, Pakistani diplomats to meet in Islamabad

Pakistani Rangers (in black) and Indian Border Security Force personnel (in khaki) performing the flag-off ceremony during India's 66th Republic Day at the India-Pakistan Wagah Border Post on Jan 26, 2015. -- PHOTO: AFP
Pakistani Rangers (in black) and Indian Border Security Force personnel (in khaki) performing the flag-off ceremony during India's 66th Republic Day at the India-Pakistan Wagah Border Post on Jan 26, 2015. -- PHOTO: AFP

ISLAMABAD (REUTERS) - India's top diplomat visits Pakistan on Tuesday for the first meeting with his counterpart since New Delhi called off talks last year aimed at easing the rivals' many disputes.

Tensions between the nuclear-armed neighbours have resulted in both armies firing across their disputed border in the region of Kashmir several times in the past year. At least a dozen people were killed and thousands forced to flee their homes in the latest fighting in January.

Indian Foreign Secretary Subrahmanyan Jaishankar is officially slated to discuss issues related to the South Asia Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) in meetings with his Pakistani counterpart Aizaz Ahmad Chaudhry.

Still, the Pakistani side expressed hope for resuming negotiations known as the Composite Dialogue, so-called because they aim to address multiple overlapping issues including Kashmir, cross-border terrorism, border and water issues.

"I wouldn't like to speculate, but naturally the two secretaries will also discuss bilateral relations," said Pakistani Foreign Office spokeswoman Tasnim Aslam. "We hope that this process can lead to the resumption of the Composite Dialogue."

A senior Indian diplomat was more cautious late last week, saying that he was "hesitant to predict" whether Tuesday's meeting would lay the groundwork for restarting negotiations.

India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi in August abruptly cancelled the last round of talks in Islamabad out of anger that Pakistan's envoy in New Delhi had hosted Kashmiri separatists in preparation.

Pakistan and India have fought two wars over Kashmir since the brutal fighting following the two countries' partition in 1947 following the end of British colonial rule.

The Himalayan region is divided between the two countries by a disputed frontier, part of one of the world's most heavily militarised borders.

India says Pakistan supports separatist militants that cross from the Pakistan side to attack Indian forces. Pakistan says India's military is abusing the human rights of Muslim Kashmiris.

On Sunday in Kashmir, Modi's ruling Hindu nationalist party formed a coalition state government with the regional People's Democratic Party, which promotes self-rule for Indian-controlled Kashmir and peace talks with militant separatists.

The new coalition offered a sign that cooperation is possible.

Another sign that Modi might be warming to the idea of improving relations: the Indian leader telephoned Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif last month to wish his country luck in the World Cup cricket tournament.

India won its match with Pakistan in the tournament a day later.