Pakistan and India ready to resume peace talks

Agreement comes after meeting of foreign ministers; first positive turn in ties in three years

India and Pakistan have agreed to resume high-level peace talks following a meeting between their foreign ministers, the first positive turn in ties after three years of disagreements over restarting the talks and cross-border firing incidents.

Still, analysts noted that the peace process between the nuclear-armed neighbours, which have gone to war three times, remained fragile.

External affairs minister Sushma Swaraj announced the beginning of a "comprehensive bilateral dialogue" after she met her Pakistani counterpart Sartaj Aziz in Islamabad, Pakistan's capital city, on Wednesday evening.

On the agenda would be Kashmir and terrorism, two major areas of disagreement between the two countries, apart from other issues such as religious tourism and humanitarian issues, according to a joint statement.

"India and Pakistan are ready for talks. How this dialogue can be taken forward - the schedule and modalities will be decided in due course," Ms Swaraj said. "For its part, India is prepared to move our cooperation at a pace which Pakistan is comfortable with."

The last time a bilateral dialogue took place was in 2012.

Ties between India and Pakistan have been cool particularly since Prime Minister Narendra Modi came to power last year.

The Modi government had hardened its position towards Pakistan, demanding action on terrorism and forward movement in the trial of seven suspects of the 2008 Mumbai terror attacks in which 166 people were killed.

A meeting of the national security advisers of the two countries in Bangkok last Sunday marked the first sign of a softening in India's position. Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif's assurance of a "speedy conclusion" of the trial is also seen to have helped move the process forward.

However, foreign policy analysts say that given the turbulent history of India-Pakistan ties - talks have been derailed by terror incidents or firing across the border - they would wait and see how the current initiative unfolds.

"We have been through this a couple of times - talks and then, no talks. All celebrations are premature," said Dr Ajai Sahni, executive director of the Institute for Conflict Management.

Said India's former foreign secretary Lalit Mansingh: "We are in a new phase, but we have to look at what happens after this.

"India-Pakistan ties are like a pendulum... the fear is that we might get stuck on old issues (terrorism and Kashmir)."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 11, 2015, with the headline 'Pakistan and India ready to resume peace talks'. Print Edition | Subscribe