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India and Pakistan in a 'new era' of talks

Washington Post - July 29, 2011

Simon Denyer, New Delhi Two weeks after a triple bombing in Mumbai, the Indian and Pakistani foreign ministers heralded a "new era" of friendlier and more stable relations between the nuclear-armed neighbours.

Both sides played down their differences on Wednesday in unexpectedly positive comments after talks in the Indian capital. But analysts warned that a huge gulf persists under the surface and that the peace process could still be derailed by another major terrorist attack on Indian soil.

Pakistan's first female and youngest-ever Foreign Minister, Hina Rabbani Khar, 34, said the governments needed to acknowledge a "mind-set change" among a new generation of Indians and Pakistanis, who have been pressing their governments to engage more constructively than in the past.

The south Asian rivals have fought three wars since independence from Britain in 1947, two of them over the disputed Himalayan region of Kashmir, with their front line often seen as one of the world's most dangerous flash points.

The newly-installed Khar, a businesswoman and politician, blunted concerns about her lack of experience by appearing to charm her Indian hosts.

Studiously avoiding the word Kashmir at a joint media appearance after two and a half hours of talks with her vastly experienced Indian counterpart, S.M. Krishna, 79, Khar said both sides wanted the dialogue to be "uninterrupted and uninterruptible".

Despite the challenges, she said, "I can confidently say that relations are on the right track".

The peace process broke off after the attack on India's financial capital, Mumbai, by Pakistani militants that killed 166 people in 2008. But under intense American pressure, both sides resumed formal talks in February.

Indian officials kept their cool after the triple bombing in Mumbai on July 13 that killed 24 people, partly because they have not found a a direct link between Pakistan and the attack.

"There is full awareness of the levels of difficulty involved in relationships as complex as those between India and Pakistan, but what is also important is for the fog to lift from this relationship," India's Foreign Secretary, Nirupama Rao, said.

Pakistan disputes India's right to the Himalayan valley of Kashmir and has long backed militants fighting there.

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