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Last Updated: Tuesday, 26 August, 2003, 12:59 GMT 13:59 UK
Analysis: Will the thaw continue?

Mike Wooldridge
BBC world affairs correspondent

Sikh activists stab a Pakistani flag in a protest in Delhi against the Bombay bombing
The governments will want to avoid inflamed feelings affecting ties
A day after the devastating twin bombings in Bombay, one of India's most senior politicians has thrown down a challenge to Pakistan.

Lal Krishna Advani, the deputy prime minister, has called on Islamabad to hand over suspects wanted in connection with previous bombings in India.

"Only then," he said, "can we believe that they meant what they said yesterday when they condemned the attacks."

It seems clear that the tense relationship between India and Pakistan will be put to the test once again in the aftermath of the explosions.

But whereas after other bombings and attacks Indian politicians and officials have often pointed the finger of suspicion directly at Pakistan - and in particular its intelligence agency, the ISI - that did not happen on this occasion.

And the Pakistan Government was quick off the mark in denouncing the Bombay bombings as acts of terror.

The parliamentary leader of an alliance of radical Islamic parties, Hafiz Hussain Ahmed, called them a tragedy and said no religion allowed the killing of innocent people.

Fresh start

The sense - at this stage at least - is of two governments that do not want to throw away the investment they have made in recent months in improving relations after the dangerous low of last year.

Delhi-Lahore bus service
The resumed Delhi-Lahore bus service is a mark of improving ties

Then a million or more Indian and Pakistani troops were in a long stand-off along the border and another all-out war seemed possible.

Presumably neither country would want to be seen to be responsible for returning South Asia to that level of tension and volatility.

It was in April that India and Pakistan spoke of making a new start in a peace process that has failed to resolve differences stretching back more than half a century to their independence from Britain.

For Pakistan, the dispute over Kashmir is the main issue. For India, in recent times, what it calls cross-border terrorism.

Clear dilemma

There have been some practical demonstrations of this professed wish to improve relations - restoring the direct Delhi-Lahore bus service for example.

And this week in Islamabad talks were taking place on lifting a 20-month suspension of direct air links, although officials were warning there were still complications.

However, Indian and Pakistani leaders have not yet sat down to new talks.

While the international community has been urging this, there is also an understanding of the need for thorough preparations for top-level talks if they are to have a better chance of success than in the past.

But there is clearly a dilemma.

The longer the delay, the greater the danger that momentum will be lost and that those forces in each country most wary about dialogue will be able to influence events and outweigh the pressure for better relations.

The bombings in Bombay, also known as Mumbai, took place at a time when both India and Pakistan were facing calls to take risks in the cause of lasting peace.

That will not change, whatever emerges about who was responsible.

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