The prime ministers of India and Pakistan agreed Thursday to resume peace talks between their top diplomats and work toward rebuilding trust shattered by the deadly 2008 Mumbai terror attacks that New Delhi blamed on Pakistani militants.
Officials said India's Manmohan Singh and his Pakistani counterpart, Yousuf Raza Gilani, agreed on the need to normalize relations, dogged by more than six decades of hostility since both gained independence from Britain. They deputed their foreign ministers to meet at a later date to discuss the resumption of a wide-ranging formal dialogue that began in 2004 but was suspended after the Mumbai attacks that killed 166 people.
The two prime ministers met for more than one hour in the tiny Himalayan kingdom of Bhutan, on the sidelines of a summit of South Asian leaders. It was their first meeting in eight months.
India's foreign secretary, Nirupama Rao, said Gilani assured India that Pakistan would not allow its territory to be used for terrorist activity directed against India and it would expedite the trial of suspects of the Mumbai attacks it is holding in Pakistan.
The two prime ministers "agreed that relations between the two countries should be normalized and the channels of contact should work effectively to enlarge the constituency of peace in both countries," Rao told reporters.
Pakistan's foreign minister, Shah Mahmood Qureshi, described it as a "very friendly" meeting and signaled that he thought the resumption of the dialogue — which covers a range of issues from border disputes, nuclear weapons and the two countries' dispute over Kashmir — was a formality.
"The two prime ministers have agreed to resume a dialogue process that remained suspended for so many months. Both foreign ministers have been asked to work out modalities of engagement. The climate has changed," Qureshi told reporters.
"I don't think that either side was expecting such a positive turn in dialogue."
Rao was more equivocal. She said India was willing to discuss and resolve all outstanding issues with Pakistan — including terrorism and the rise in infiltration by Islamic insurgents. She said the foreign ministers have been charged with "thinking afresh and working out ways to restore trust and confidence in the relationship." No date has been set for the meeting.
India and Pakistan have been under pressure to resume their peace dialogue — which eased historic tensions although it made little headway on the key issue of Kashmir, which they both claim in entirety and have fought two of their three wars over since gaining independence in 1947.
The United States hopes that if tensions on the subcontinent ease, Pakistan will be able to deploy resources to fighting the Taliban and al-Qaida on its western border with Afghanistan.
"The issue of terrorism was holding back progress," Singh was quoted as telling his Pakistani counterpart. "Pakistan has to address the issue of terrorism. The terror machine that operates from Pakistan needs to be eliminated."
Pakistan is trying seven men on charges they planned and carried out the Mumbai attacks, but the militant network blamed for the assault continues to operate relatively freely in the country.
India also accuses Pakistan of supporting militants fighting Indian rule in the portion of Kashmir it controls — a conflict that has claimed tens of thousands of lives over two decades.