World Cup semi-final offers chance for 'cricket diplomacy'
As India and Pakistan prepare for their cricket semi-final showdown, home secretaries from both countries met for peace talks in New Delhi on Monday in a further sign that their historically frosty diplomatic relations are warming.
AFP - India hailed "extremely positive" peace talks with Pakistan on Monday with both countries looking to build on a recent warming in relations brought on by some successful "cricket diplomacy."
Home secretaries from the two nations met in New Delhi to discuss counter-terrorism, the 2008 Mumbai attacks and the drugs trade in talks that are part of a formal peace process re-starting between the neighbours.
"The talks were extremely positive. Progress was made in... the right direction," India's G.K. Pillai said after a six-hour meeting at a luxury hotel in the capital.
He promised a joint statement on Tuesday, the second day of the talks between him and his counterpart Chaudhary Qamar Zaman. Both men are the highest ranking officials in their home ministries.
The meeting comes amid intense excitement in the nuclear-armed neighbours about the semi-final of the cricket World Cup on Wednesday, which will see India host Pakistan on home turf for the first time since 2007.
Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has invited his Pakistani counterpart Yousuf Raza Gilani to watch the game with him in what will be a rare meeting between the leaders, who last sat down for talks in Bhutan in April last year.
"The entire country has appreciated this gesture of the honorable prime minister of India," Zaman said on Sunday as he travelled to New Delhi.
In a further goodwill gesture, Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari, who Singh also invited to the game, agreed Sunday to free an Indian national who was jailed for life more than 23 years ago.
Despite the positive moves, the discussions between Pillai and Zaman were expected to be plagued by tension over the 2008 Mumbai attacks, carried out by extremists who travelled from Pakistan.
India broke off formal peace talks with its neighbour after the attack that left 166 dead and has repeatedly called on Islamabad to bring the perpetrators to justice. Pakistan has charged seven people but none has been convicted.
"It is our resolve that we would like to deter acts of terrorism in all their manifestations," a senior security official in Islamabad told AFP on Monday.
Zaman would also discuss the release of prisoners and fishermen held by both countries, and easing visa restrictions, he said.
"We are open to a very frank discussion and all issues are going to be discussed. The talks would not be confined to Mumbai attacks," the official said.
Last month, the two countries announced they would resume a formal peace dialogue with a view to resolving all issues between them, including the vexed subject of Kashmir, which is divided between them.
India and Pakistan have fought three wars since the subcontinent was partitioned in 1947, including two over Kashmir.
The international community has been pushing the two countries back to the negotiating table to help ease tensions in an already volatile region.
M.K. Bhadrakumar, a former diplomat, praised Singh for his gesture to Pakistan's leaders in inviting them to watch the cricket match on Wednesday in Mohali in Punjab state, which borders Pakistan.
"Modern history is replete with instances that show there is no alternative to top-level diplomacy if inter-state relationships that are hopelessly bogged down with past burdens are to be rescued," he wrote in The Hindu newspaper.
The relaunch of the India-Pakistan peace process, formally known as the composite dialogue, is expected to result in more contacts between the countries at high levels.