India, Pakistan Hold First Talks In 15 Months

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Senior Indian and Pakistani officials held wide-ranging talks in New Delhi Thursday. The discussions were put on hold after the 2008 terrorist attack in Mumbai. A band of militants sailed from Pakistan and rampaged through India's commercial capital. U.S. officials are pressing the two sides to end their 63-year dispute.

STEVE INSKEEP, Host:

It's MORNING EDITION, from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep.

Talks between India and Pakistan came today, but they don't seem to have done much to improve relations between the two nuclear-armed neighbors. The U.S. has been pressing the two sides to end their decades-old dispute, not least because Washington thinks this would help Pakistan to focus on the fight against the Taliban and al-Qaida. NPR's Philip Reeves reports.

PHILIP REEVES: There have already been some talks between India and Pakistan since the Mumbai attacks. But today's meeting was the most substantial attempt so far to rebuild their shattered relationship. Afterwards, India's envoy, Nirupama Rao, struck a guarded, but generally positive note.

NIRUPAMA RAO: We had useful discussions. We had detailed, candid discussions. There was transparency on both sides.

REEVES: Rao said Pakistan pressed for a return to the formal peace dialogue, the peace talks that began in 2004, but were frozen by India after the Mumbai assault. She said India declined, at least for now, but agreed to keep in touch.

RAO: We certainly don't discount the achievements made by the composite dialogue and the relevance of that dialogue. But the time is ripe as yet to resume it, because we have to create a climate of trust and confidence. And, you know, there has to be a certain process that we have put in place, step by step, before we do that.

REEVES: Even before they began, today's talks in the Indian capital, New Dehli, were overshadowed by differences over the agenda. India wanted to focus on security and terrorism in the aftermath of the Mumbai attacks. Pakistan wanted much wider discussions, discussions that would include Kashmir, the conflict that triggered two of the three wars between India and Pakistan and that's claimed tens of thousands of lives.

Pakistani commentator, retired General Talat Masood, believes the two sides will make no progress unless these core issues are tackled.

TALAT MASOOD: Unless they address the problem of Kashmir and now also the problem of water, it would be very difficult for anything, you know, the relations to be normalized.

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REEVES: The militants who attacked Mumbai killed more than 160 people. Pakistan's prosecuting seven men over those attacks. India has acknowledged this is a step forward, but today, it repeated its demand that Pakistan must do much more against militant outfits on its soil. It wants that to include acting against the man it believes masterminded the Mumbai assault. It also wants it to include eliminating jihadi groups carrying out attacks in Indian-controlled Kashmir. India has long maintained these groups are being used by the Pakistani establishment to pressure India into making concessions over Kashmir.

No one expected a major breakthrough today. Rajiv Sikri is an Indian former senior diplomat.

RAJIV SIKRI: And it is unfair to expect that everything would be resolved at the level of the foreign secretaries. But it's the beginning of a dialogue process, which I hope would be sustained no matter what happens.

REEVES: Many obstacles lie in the path back to peacemaking. The lack of trust between the two sides is very great. Pakistan suspects India of supporting insurgents in the Pakistani province of Baluchistan. Both sides are deeply suspicious of one another's intentions in Afghanistan. They also have lots of issues to settle. First up were disputes over water and borders.

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AMITABH BACHCHAN: (Foreign language spoken)

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

Unidentified Man: (Singing in foreign language)

REEVES: Bollywood's patriarch, the superstar Amitabh Bachchan, makes a TV appeal for peace. The governments of India and Pakistan are not acting alone. This appeal is part of a campaign by two media giants: the Times of India and Pakistan's Jang Group. Together, they're trying to foster more people-to-people and cultural contacts between Indians and Pakistanis. They're planning a big trade conference soon.

RAHUL KANSAL: We were mindful of the fact that there could be a (unintelligible). But we felt that it would be held against us for trying.

REEVES: That's Times of India director Rahul Kansal. He says the campaign has drawn criticism, but that public support is far greater than opposition to it.

Many Indians and Pakistanis are aware of the price they've paid for more than six decades of hostility. As their officials now inch warily back towards one another, they know the rewards of peace could be huge.

Martily Bosnamat(ph) of India's Economic Times.

MARTILY BOSNAMAT: It would be enormous, because they're both two desperately poor countries. And the amount of money that both of us spend on our defense forces is incredible.

REEVES: Philip Reeves, NPR News, New Delhi.

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