With "optimism" and "an open mind," the Indian and Pakistani foreign secretaries on Thursday began two-day talks in Islamabad to bridge the trust deficit, which touched a new low after then 26/11 attack, by focusing on peace and security and confidence-building measures on Kashmir.
The talks between foreign secretary Nirupama Rao and her Pakistani counterpart Salman Bashir have been divided into three segments.
The two top diplomats on Thursday held discussions on peace and security and CBMs across the Line of Control in Kashmir. The second and third round of talks on Jammu and Kashmir and promotion of friendly exchanges will take place in Islamabad on Friday.
Both Rao and Bashir struck notes of cautious optimism as they first held restricted talks before they were joined by their delegations.
Welcoming the Indian side, Bashir stressed that they were approaching the talks with a "great sense of confidence, optimism and determination."
"We wish to engage with you in not only walking the trajectory but also exploring new avenues further," he said.
Rao agreed, saying this was an "apt" statement.
Bashir added that this was an important point in the relationship and will also help the two sides prepare the agenda for the meeting of the two foreign ministers in the near future.
Rao, on her part, said that "we have a clear agenda in front of us for discussions" and noted that there have been good meetings in the past few months.
"We are approaching these talks with an open and constructive mind," she said.
The talks took place on a day US President Barack Obama announced an initial withdrawal of 10,000 US troops from Afghanistan, the violence-torn country that has emerged as an arena of rivalry between India and Pakistan.
During her three-day stay to Islamabad, Rao will call on Pakistani prime minister Yousuf Raza Gilani. She returns to India Saturday afternoon.
The two-day talks are expected to set the stage for the meeting of the foreign ministers in New Delhi.
Rao is expected to convey India's disappointment with the slow progress in the trial in Pakistan of those suspected to be behind the Nov 26-29, 2008 Mumbai that claimed the lives of 166 people, including some foreigners. Latest intelligence inputs suggest that the infrastructure of anti-India terrorist groups still operates on Pakistani soil.
The two sides are also expected to discuss nuclear CBMs, an issue that has gained greater salience in view of reports about the danger of Pakistan's nuclear weapons falling into the hand of terrorists.
This is the first high-level engagement between the two estranged neighbours since Prime Minister Manmohan Singh hosted his counterpart Yousuf Raza Gilani at the World Cup semifinal in Mohali March 30.
In February, the two countries decided to resume talks on all bilateral issues, reviving the dialogue process that was frozen in the wake of the Mumbai terror attack. Since then, the defence, interior and commerce secretaries have met in the last few months.
Rao touched down here in the morning and stressed that the talks aimed at an eventual normalisation of relations.
"I have come to Pakistan with an open mind and a constructive spirit in order to work towards building trust and confidence in our relationship, thereby leading to an eventual normalisation of relations for the well-being and prosperity of our peoples," Rao said in her arrival statement.
She said her's was an important visit as it marks the penultimate leg of the resumed dialogue process before the Pakistani foreign minister reaches India next month.
Rao said the discussions would include "peace and security, including confidence building measures, Jammu and Kashmir and promotion of friendly exchanges".
"I bring with me the best wishes of the people and the government of India for the people and government of Pakistan. We wish to see a stable, peaceful and prosperous Pakistan," she said.
While India has called for patience while dealing with Pakistan, Gilani has said that "core issues", including Kashmir, needed to be discussed.
At the same time, Gilani has underscored the need for increased trade as well as people-to-people contacts.
On Wednesday, he said that the future of Pakistan was closely linked with the resolution of the Kashmir dispute.
In New Delhi, the main opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), upped the ante on the Kashmir issue and warned the government against making any compromise on it. BJP leader LK Advani threatend to launch a mass demonstration if the government went in for a settlement of the Kashmir issue with Pakistan.