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Fresh tensions cloud India, Pakistan peace talks

05 july 2012, 19:11
Top Indian and Pakistani foreign ministry officials met Wednesday to bolster a fragile peace dialogue undermined by fresh tensions over the 2008 Mumbai attacks and political flux in Pakistan, AFP reports.

New Delhi suspended a four-year peace process with Islamabad after the attacks on India's financial capital by 10 Islamist gunmen that left 166 people dead.

The full peace dialogue only resumed in February last year.

A senior Indian government official said Wednesday's meeting between Indian Foreign Secretary Ranjan Mathai and his Pakistani counterpart Jalil Abbas Jilani had the sole aim of keeping the "dialogue process on track".

Both men are the top civil servants in their respective ministries.

The talks' atmosphere has been soured by India's recent arrest of Sayed Zabiuddin Ansari, suspected of being a key handler for the Mumbai attackers who were members of the Pakistan-based Lashkar-e-Taiba militant group.

India says Ansari has admitted helping to coordinate the deadly assault from a command post in Karachi, and his testimony has renewed Indian accusations that "state elements" in Pakistan were involved.

Returning Tuesday from a visit to Tajikistan, Indian Foreign Minister S.M. Krishna said the information extracted from Ansari would have to be corroborated with other sources.

"That is when we will have to make a value judgement whether Pakistan can be trusted or not," Krishna told reporters.

He also said it was a "matter of great regret" that Lashkar founder Hafiz Saeed -- accused of masterminding the 2008 attacks -- was still "moving freely in Pakistan".

The United States has offered a $10 million reward for information leading to Saeed's conviction.

Pakistan has indicted seven people for their alleged role in the Mumbai attacks but their trial, which began in 2009, has been beset by delays.

Wilson John, a foreign policy analyst at the Observer Research Foundation, an independent think tank in New Delhi, said the wounds re-opened by Ansari's arrest had set the revived peace process back.

"The blame game has started again... too much heat and dust has been stirred up at various levels," John said.

India and Pakistan have fought three wars since the sub-continent was partitioned in 1947, and the nuclear-armed rivals remain deadlocked on their core dispute over the divided Himalayan territory of Kashmir.

Since resuming their dialogue, they have sought to make progress on less contentious issues like bilateral trade, and have agreed to enhance cooperation on terrorism, human trafficking, narcotics and cyber crime.

But analysts say the recent political upheaval in Pakistan has drained some of the momentum from the process.

The foreign secretaries' meeting was to have taken place at the end of last month, but was postponed in the uncertainty that followed the Pakistani Supreme Court's dismissal of Yousuf Raza Gilani as prime minister.

"No one should expect any substantive outcome from this diplomatic meeting," G. Parthasarathy, former Indian envoy to Pakistan, told AFP.

"Who is the real leader in Pakistan and whom should India be talking to? The only significance of the meeting is: Yes, we met and we will continue to meet."

The foreign secretaries are expected to lay the the ground for another round of talks between their respective foreign ministers -- originally scheduled for July 18 but also postponed with a new date yet to be announced.

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