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Pakistan, India at impasse in diplomatic talks

Pakistan and India hit a stalemate in their efforts to rejuvenate a stalled peace process after their top diplomats met for nearly two hours Sunday.
/ Source: The Associated Press

Pakistan and India hit a stalemate in their efforts to rejuvenate a stalled peace process after their top diplomats met for nearly two hours Sunday at a New York hotel on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly.

The foreign ministers for the nuclear-armed arch rivals each described their private discussions at the Palace Hotel in midtown Manhattan as candid and useful, but each blamed the other side for their slowing progress in separate news conferences afterward.

At the Palace Hotel, Indian Foreign Minister S.M. Krishna insisted to reporters that Pakistan must strenuously prosecute the leader of a banned Islamist group that India has accused of carrying out attacks on its financial capital late last year.

Krishna said India has "serious and continuing concerns about terrorism and extremist groups in Pakistan," but he added that the two diplomats agreed on the overall need for "deeper, sustained and meaningful relations" between their nations.

Starting in 2004, Pakistan and India began trying to strengthen ties with more cooperation on transportation and trade. But soon after last November's attacks in Mumbai, India put on hold its 5-year-old peace process with Pakistan.

Islamabad will take strong action against those responsible for the "heinous crime," Pakistan Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi told reporters at the Roosevelt Hotel five blocks away. But also said New Delhi was putting too much emphasis on the case.

Pakistani police in the eastern city of Lahore have placed under house arrest and issued a criminal complaint against Hafiz Muhammad Saeed, the founder of the Pakistan-based militant group Lashkar-e-Taiba. New Delhi claims he masterminded the commando-style assault that killed 166 people in Mumbai. Nine of the 10 gunmen also were killed.

"Pakistan wants to see this trial to its logical conclusion," Qureshi said.

Seven other suspects in the attacks also have been in court hearings in a prison in Rawalpindi, near the capital of Islamabad, but with no charges filed against them. Pressured by the United States and others abroad, Pakistan has acknowledged that much of the plot originated on its soil.

"I have suggested to my counterpart a way forward and a roadmap for the future," Qureshi said. "We cannot confine our discussions to one issue, that is, terrorism at Mumbai."

He also emphasized his willingness to go to India to negotiate.

"Pakistan wants a resumption of the dialogue," Qureshi added. "Not because of any weakness of ours — because this is our considered opinion that this is the only sensible way forward. Any other way would be destructive and mutually suicide."

It was the fourth time since June that Pakistan and India have met for bilateral talks to try to jump-start negotiations that recently have come under fire by the political opposition in India. Sunday's meeting resulted from an agreement between the nations' prime ministers in July at the Egyptian Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheik.

A day earlier, Pakistani Foreign Secretary Salman Bashir held talks with his Indian counterpart, Nirupama Rao. Bashir said Sunday that Pakistan was hoping for a resumption in the peace process by the end of the year, after the Saeed case has played out more.

Lashkar is widely believed to have enjoyed the support of people in Pakistan's security agencies in the 1980s and 1990s because it sent militants to fight Indian rule in the divided Muslim-majority Himalayan region of Kashmir.

Kashmir is divided by the two countries but both claim it in its entirety. India and Pakistan have fought three wars since they gained independence from Britain in 1947, two over control of Kashmir. Tensions among them remain high.

One of the top U.S. priorities has been to reduce the tension between Pakistan and India so that Pakistan can focus its attention on dismantling the safe haven for the al-Qaida and Taliban leadership that exists on the Afghan border.

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