India says open to new round of talks with Pakistan

NEW DELHI Sun Mar 14, 2010 9:17am IST

A Pakistani Ranger stands near the Pakistani flag and Indian flag (L) during a daily parade at the Pakistan-India joint check post at Wagah border, on the outskirts of Lahore February 26, 2010.  REUTERS/Mohsin Raza/Files

A Pakistani Ranger stands near the Pakistani flag and Indian flag (L) during a daily parade at the Pakistan-India joint check post at Wagah border, on the outskirts of Lahore February 26, 2010.

Credit: Reuters/Mohsin Raza/Files

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NEW DELHI (Reuters) - India signalled on Friday it was open to a new round of talks with Pakistan, raising fresh hopes of a thaw in relations after last month's official dialogue between the nuclear-armed rivals produced no breakthrough.

The two nations' top diplomats -- their foreign secretaries -- met in New Delhi for their first official talks since the 2008 Mumbai attacks, but just agreed to "keep in touch" without mentioning if there would be another round of talks.

What followed the meeting was a bout of acrimonious exchanges between the two sides over what the focus of the dialogue was -- India on terrorism, Pakistan on the disputed region of Kashmir -- worsening the atmosphere for any future talks.

"We tried to make a beginning with the foreign secretary talks, but nothing came out of it am afraid," India's Home Minister Palaniappan Chidambaram told a conference in New Delhi.

"But I am told we are still open to another round of talks between the foreign secretaries."

An easing of tension between the neighbours is important for stability in Afghanistan, where India and Pakistan have long battled for influence, complicating efforts by the United States to defeat Islamist militancy in the region.

India broke off a four-year-long sluggish peace initiative with Pakistan after the Mumbai attacks, saying dialogue could resume only if Islamabad acted against militants on its soil.

It blamed the attacks, which killed 166 people, on Pakistan-based militants.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, 77, seen as searching for a legacy in his last political years, has pushed talks. Such a move is politically difficult given strong public opinion against a country India has fought three wars with.

Many say India could also be backing talks now because of a nudge from Washington and dwindling diplomatic options.

What will limit the government's ability to push talks are a repeat of attacks like last month's bombing in Pune, which killed 16 people and sparked a sense of foreboding that it could herald more attacks.

Police have not identified any group behind the attack, but Indian analysts suspect home-grown Islamist militants could have been responsible.

Chidambaram's comments were echoed by Pakistan's High Commissioner to India Shahid Malik.

"Yes, we have suggested a roadmap for future interaction and we hope India will respond to that," he told the conference.

(Additional reporting by Bappa Majumdar; Editing by Alistair Scrutton)

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