India and Pakistan agreed to take the dialogue process to a political level in Thimpu on Thursday, though the agenda and format of the talks remain uncharted.
New Delhi has signalled that how far forward the process goes depends on Pakistani action against its 26/11 accused.
The agreement to boost the dialogue to the political level came after Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and his Pakistan counterpart Yusuf Raza Gilani held a one-on-one meeting for an hour on the sidelines of the NAM summit — their first bilateral meeting since their encounter in Sharm-el-Sheik, Egypt, on July 16, 2009.
Ten minutes of delegation- level talks preceded the meeting between the two prime ministers. They called in their foreign ministers and foreign secretaries at the end of their meeting, signalling that the leaders had agreed to move forward.
Senior Indian officials said the Pakistani PM was agreeable to the key Indian demand that there should be a speedy trial of those who plotted the 26/11 attacks on Mumbai.
"Besides this, we get the sense that Pakistan will also look into the issue of persons like Hafiz Saeed continuing to roam free and being allowed to whip up anti-India sentiments", an official told HT from Thimpu.
Singh told Gilani that India was willing to discuss all issues of mutual concern through dialogue but the issue of terrorism is holding back progress, Foreign Secretary Nirupama Rao said.
"The prime ministers held very good talks in a free and frank manner. They agreed that cooperation between the two countries is vital for the people... to realise their destiny," Rao said after the meeting
But the agenda and structure of the talks are the issues that await some diplomatic manoeuvring. The two sides will need to find a middle ground between Pakistan's insistence that the two resume the previous composite dialogue and New Delhi's aversion to going back to a format abandoned after the Mumbai attack.
Sources said Rao is likely to travel to Pakistan next month and put in place modalities for talks before External Affairs Minister SM Krishna visits Islamabad to restore "trust and confidence".
Sources said India hoped Pakistan would make some "positive moves on its core concerns of terrorism and the Mumbai attack" before Rao meets her Pakistan counterpart Salman Bashir. Such action would help the government address the strong domestic reservations that exist about resuming the dialogue process and prevent the talks from getting sufficient political momentum. Home Minister P Chidambaram will also attend the twice-postponed home ministers' meet, now scheduled in Islamabad on June 26.
Rao said the Prime Minister expressed India's concern over the slow progress of the Mumbai attackers' trial in Pakistan to Gilani, who assured Singh that Pakistan would not allow its territory to be used for terrorism directed against India.
It was decided by the two PMs that foreign ministers and foreign secretaries of the two countries should meet as soon as possible to "restore trust and confidence", said Rao.
Pakistan Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi told a news conference that the meeting between the two leaders ended on a positive note and he would be engaging with his Indian counterpart, SM Krishna, at an appropriate time.
Qureshi said the meeting has "changed the climate" between the two countries.