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Zardari backs better ties with India

world Updated: Feb 13, 2010 18:56 IST

Good relations between Pakistan and India are vital for fighting Islamist militancy, Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari said on Saturday, as the old rivals prepare for their first official talks since the Mumbai attack.

Top officials in the foreign ministries of the two nuclear-armed neighbours are to meet in New Delhi on Feb. 25 after India this month offered to hold high-level talks.

In a meeting with Pakistan's high commissioner, or ambassador, to India, Zardari said Pakistan wanted "meaningful and result-oriented talks" with India.

That, he said, would include resumption of the full peace process centred on so-called composite dialogue covering all bilateral problems, including their core dispute over the Himalayan region of Kashmir.

"Good neighbourly relations are essential for the welfare of both countries and also for fighting militancy," a statement from Zardari's office quoted him as saying.

New Delhi suspended a four-year-old peace process with Pakistan after the attack on the Indian city of Mumbai by Pakistan-based Islamist militants in 2008 that killed 166 people.

India had demanded action against the militants it says were behind the assault before the peace process could resume, but offered dialogue despite little progress in Pakistan's prosecution of seven suspects.

The United States has also urged the two countries to resume engagement to help stabilise Afghanistan, where it is deploying tens of thousands more troops into battle against the militants.

An easing of tension with India would help Pakistan to focus on its fight on al Qaeda-linked militants on its western borders with Afghanistan.

Indian officials say they offered Pakistan open-ended talks on all issues affecting peace and security, emphasising counter-terrorism.

Analysts expect no breakthrough on core disputes, but say any renewed engagement after more than a year is a good sign.

The neighbours have fought three wars since securing independence in 1947, two of them over Muslim-majority Kashmir, which both claim in full but rule in part.