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Krishna, Qureshi begin peace talks; terror remains main agenda

External Affairs Minister SM Krishna and his Pakistani counterpart Shah Mahmood Qureshi today began talks aimed at bridging their trust deficit and to put their relations, derailed after the Mumbai terror attack, back on track.Time for peace has come, says Pak minister

india Updated: Jul 15, 2010 13:50 IST

The foreign ministers of India and Pakistan on Thursday began talks aimed at bridging their trust deficit and to put their relations, derailed after the Mumbai terror attack, back on track.

SM Krishna of India and Shah Mahmood Qureshi of Pakistan met at the foreign ministry with their delegations after a warm handshake, a day after the Indian minister arrived here saying his three-day visit marked "a new journey".

"I am hopeful," Krishna said in brief remarks before leaving for the meeting. The two ministers will later jointly address the media.

It will be the most significant bilateral interaction since the prime ministers of both countries decided in Bhutan in April to normalise a relationship that was hit badly after Pakistani terrorists ravaged Mumbai in November 2008.

But despite the vocal commitment to make a new beginning, serious differences persist between the two nuclear rivals of South Asia.

Some of this was evident when the soft-spoken Krishna underlined after his arrival here Wednesday India's need to see Pakistan act firmly on confessions by terror suspect David Coleman Headley, a Pakistan-born American.

Headley, Krishna told Indian journalists, has reportedly told Indian and American interrogators that he had scouted high-profile sites in Mumbai to be targeted by the Pakistan-based Lashkar-e-Taiba.

Indian officials have now said that the Lashkar was not alone when 10 of its heavily armed members sneaked into Mumbai by the sea and killed 166 Indians and foreigners, and that the Pakistani intelligence was very much involved.

Pakistani officials have denied the charge.

The talks will also take place in the backdrop of increased infiltration of armed militants from Pakistan into Jammu and Kashmir, where street protests over the past month has left 15 civilians dead in firing by security forces, whipping up emotions n Pakistan.

Indian and Pakistani officials believe that despite their visible and serious differences on a variety of areas, including Jammu and Kashmir and Afghanistan, the two countries can take some steps to improve their relations.

This includes easing their tight visa regime, promoting more people-to-people contacts, increasing border trade including across Jammu and Kashmir, upping the number of train and bus links, and making prisoner swaps easier.

Krishna skirted an answer when he was asked Wednesday if India and Pakistan would resume playing cricket, the national passion in both countries.

After his joint media interaction with Qureshi, Krishna will call on Pakistan Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani and President Asif Ali Zardari Thursday.

On Friday, before leaving for home in the evening, Krishna will meet delegations from the Muttahida Quami Movement (MQM), the Awami National Party (ANP) and the Pakistan Muslim League (PML) of former prime minister Nawaz Sharif.

Krishna's visit follows the June 24 meeting here of the foreign secretaries of India and Pakistan who discussed the modalities for restoring trust and confidence so that the two countries engage in a meaningful dialogue.

First Published: Jul 15, 2010 11:56 IST