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South Asia rivals' differing agendas

23 February 10 19:21 GMT

India and Pakistan are preparing to hold their first formal talks since the 2008 Mumbai (Bombay) attacks. Negotiations will take place in Delhi on Thursday at India's invitation - the BBC's Geeta Pandey cautions against high expectations.

When India suddenly invited Pakistan for foreign secretary-level talks earlier this month, many observers were taken by surprise.

The Indian foreign ministry justified the invitation, pointing to steps taken by its neighbour. "Pakistan has taken some action in the Mumbai attacks. They have charged people. The trial has commenced. There is some forward movement," it said.

Pakistan cautiously accepted the offer, hoping it would lead to the resumption of a "comprehensive dialogue".

But ever since then unnamed officials on both sides have been quoted making unfriendly statements in the media.

According to reports, Pakistani officials were gloating that "India had been brought to its knees", while Indian officials were threatening to cancel the talks if Pakistan didn't stop "grandstanding".

Analysts say the talks are being resumed under pressure from the US.


But the two countries continue to differ wildly on what is going to be on the agenda.

Pakistan says it wants to discuss many issues, including, of course, divided Kashmir - which both countries claim in its entirety.

India, however, says these are "talks about talks" and there is only one item on the agenda - terrorism.

In the run-up to Thursday's meeting, India's government has been stressing what it says is a rise in infiltration attempts from across the de facto border dividing Kashmir.

This, it says, shows Pakistan is still allowing territory it controls to be used by militants to launch attacks against Indian targets.

The wounds of the Mumbai attacks - in which 174 people were killed, nine of them gunmen - are still raw.

"From the home ministry, we would like pending issues relating to Mumbai attacks to be taken up for discussion," Mr Chidambaram said.

"Our demand is that Pakistan must dismantle the terror infrastructure and that remains our core demand."

But Pakistan wants "a dialogue on all issues", Lahore-based political analyst Prof Hasan Askari Rizvi told the BBC.

"Islamabad wants to discuss the Kashmir issue, and at the same time talk about river water sharing, the Siachen glacier, Sir Creek [boundary dispute], travel and trade between India and Pakistan."

Discussing just terrorism will not be acceptable to Pakistan, he says.

So when the two foreign secretaries - India's Nirupama Rao and Pakistan's Salman Bashir - sit across from each other can we expect a breakthrough?

"You don't need a sting operation to find out what Ms Rao will say," Indian commentator MJ Akbar writes in the Times of India.

"She has no option except to hammer away at terrorism and the 'war by other means' that Pakistan launched after its failure to seize the Kashmir valley by irregular and then regular forces in 1947-48."

He says the outcome of the dialogue will be determined not by what Ms Rao says, but what she hears.

Indian 'turnaround'

In the past decade, relations between India and Pakistan have often been a case of one step forward, two steps back.

In 1999, soon after then Indian Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee made a historic bus journey to Pakistan to sign the Lahore peace declaration, the Kargil conflict raised tensions to dangerous limits.

Attacks on Delhi's Red Fort in December 2000 and on the Indian parliament the following year were blamed on Pakistan-based militants and brought the rivals to the brink of war.

In 2004, India and Pakistan began the so-called "composite dialogue" to discuss eight main issues - including Kashmir - which bedevil their relations. A number of confidence-building measures were agreed, but no substantial progress was made.

Then relations hit rock bottom again after the Mumbai attacks.

India blamed Pakistan-based militant group Lashkar-e-Taiba. After initially denying it, Pakistan finally conceded the attacks had been partly planned on its territory.

An angry India pulled out of talks - and the government's "abrupt turnaround" inviting Pakistan for dialogue has not gone down well with the main opposition Bharatiya Janata Party and many others.

Ajay Sahni of the Delhi-based Institute for Conflict Management says delinking talks from terrorism at this stage is bound to be "counter-productive" as they "provide Pakistan with a degree of legitimacy".

"Not talking is also a form of communication. It sends a message to Pakistan that their behaviour is unacceptable," he says.

The opposing voices grew louder after a blast on 13 February in the western city of Pune which killed 15 people.

Indian authorities said they would go ahead with the dialogue, but no one on either sdie of the border is hopeful.

"No one's expecting any problems will be solved. India wants to discuss terrorism. Pakistan wants comprehensive talks, involving other issues. If the two countries agree on an agenda and decide to hold further talks, then that itself would be a success," Prof Rizvi says.

Ajay Sahni adds: "The two sides will quibble and play games. There may even be a few minor agreements on some minor issues. But nothing of worth will come out."

The most anyone can expect is that relations may emerge from the deep freeze - but it's bound to be a long haul before they can thaw and become warm.

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