India and Pakistan on Thursday agreed to enhance counter-terror cooperation to deny terrorist elements any opportunity to derail their improving relationship as their foreign secretaries held talks to firm up "comprehensive, sustained and meaningful dialogue".
"We must deny terrorist elements any opportunity to derail the process of improving the relationship," said India's Foreign Secretary Nirupama Rao after airing New Delhi's "core concerns" over terrorism at delegation-level talks with her Pakistani counterpart Salman Bashir.
"We believe that dialogue is the best way forward," Rao said at a packed press conference, the first joint media interaction the two sides have held since the 26/11 Mumbai carnage, indicating a further easing of ties.
Rao and Bashir held talks on an entire gamut of bilateral talks, including terrorism and Jammu and Kashmir, with a view to firming up the agenda for a more substantive meeting bwtween Indian External Affairs Minister SM Krishna and his Pakistani counterpart Shah Mahmood Qureshi. "
"During our discussions, we have accepted the modalities for restoring trust and confidence for comprehensive, sustained and meaningful dialogue," said Rao, indicating a distinct shift to "an exploratory" mode on India's part to rebuild the dialogue that was frozen after 26/11.
This was the first round of talks since the thaw initiated by Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and his Pakistani counterpart Yousuf Raza Gilani nearly two months ago when they directed their foreign ministers and foreign secretaries to meet and work out the modalities of restoring trust between the two countries.
Rao, however, made it clear that these exploratory talks should not be construed as a resumption of the composite dialogue process, indicating a possible new format to carry forward the re-engagement between the two nuclear-armed neighbours. "
"You must focus that dialogue is the best option for deepening the relationship. It is not an issue of nomencla"ure," said Rao.
Terror topped the discussions, said Indian sources. India articulated"its "core concern about terr"rism" and reminded Pakistan about G’lani's commitment that this country's territory will not be used against India. "We believe that is an important commit"ent," said Rao.
She was referring to the renewed "commitment" made by Gilani during his meeting with Manmohan Singh at Thimphu on the sidelines of the SAARC summit in April.
She added that both sides will have to work together so that these "dangers, threats and evils" of terrorism are countered effectively.
Bashir stressed that both countries were discussing ways to cooperate in counter-terrorism, which will be discussed in detail at the meeting of Indian Home Minister P Chidambaram with his Pakistani counterpart Rehman Malik on Saturday."
"We will not allow terrorist space to act against each o"her," he said.
Pakistan struck an optimistic note about Thursday's talks and the prospects of future dialogue between the two countries.
Bashir said "all in all, it was a most useful meeting" and stressed that he was "much more optimistic about a good outcome for the ministerial level meeting" between the foreign ministers of the two countries."
"We have been able to review comprehensively state of bilateral relations. All issues of concern and interest touched upon, always with keeping in mind the need to move ahead," said Bashir."
"I think dialogue is a step forward. It's an important development," Foreign Minister Qureshi said. "We should build on this development," he added.
Ten terrorists had held Mumbai hostage for 60 hours November 26-29, 2008, killing 166 Indians and foreigners. India has given 11 dossiers to Pakistan, linking some Pakistani nationals and groups to the Mumbai carnage.