Peace negotiations to begin again after Mumbai attacks in 2008.
India and Pakistan have agreed to resume formal peace talks that were broken off by New Delhi after the 2008 Mumbai attacks, Indian sources said, although they sought to play down expectations of major progress.
The two countries have been under pressure from the US to reduce tensions because their rivalry spills over into Afghanistan, complicating peace efforts there.
A senior Indian government official said the decision to return to talks was made at a meeting between the two countries’ top diplomats in Bhutan’s capital, Thimphu, on the margins of a regional conference.
A Pakistani official wouldn’t confirm the decision, but said there had been progress.
“The resumption of a formal dialogue has been the subject of discussions all along in these talks,” the senior official in Islamabad said on Thursday. “All I can say for now is that there has been progress towards that, but I can’t say for now when it will happen.”
If talks do resume there is probably little chance of rapid progress between the neighbours, who have fought each other three times since their independence more than 60 years ago and both now have nuclear weapons. Previous formal talks, which started in 2004, quickly floundered amid a minefield of political obstacles and distrust.
“I am cautiously optimistic about the talks. Cautious because there are so many variables and unknowns involved,” said Amitabh Mattoo, professor of international relations at Jawaharlal Nehru University.
New Delhi suspended the peace process after the militant attacks in India’s commercial capital, Mumbai, blaming Pakistan-based militants for the deaths of 166 people.
Since then officials from the countries have met to improve ties but have shied away from resuming the “composite dialogue” which included resolving key differences, including a dispute over the Himalayan territory of Kashmir.
“The new talks are in effect the formal resumption of the composite dialogue,” a senior Indian official involved in repairing ties with Pakistan told Reuters.
“What happened in Thimphu is that we both agreed … there is support for the process [on both sides],” the official said, adding the new talks would not be called “composite dialogue”.
When asked whether formal talks were being started, another Indian official replied: “Yes, it’s another attempt,” though he stressed that progress would be “incremental”.
Indian government sources said it had been agreed that talks would resume at several levels, including between the home secretaries “in the coming months”, leading up to talks between foreign ministers later this year.
Financial markets tend not to react to such diplomatic twists and turns, but a second attack like Mumbai could trigger retaliation by India, a move that would almost certainly hit investor confidence in Asia’s third-largest economy.
The Indian prime minister, Manmohan Singh, has made efforts to entice Pakistan to peace talks, concerned about the legacy of his second-term government.
But such moves have little impact on voters who are more concerned about inflation and corruption, and India these days looks more towards competing with China on economic and security issues than its traditional rival Pakistan.
Tentative discussions between India and Pakistan do not have a record of success.
India has consistently demanded that Pakistan act against militant groups on its soil. Islamabad, which is fighting an Islamist insurgency of its own, says it is doing all it can and demands New Delhi provide evidence to back its accusations.
Along with Kashmir, the foes have engaged in a proxy battle for influence in Afghanistan, complicating western efforts to end the war that the US began there 10 years ago.
Pakistan considers Afghanistan a part of its sphere of influence and claims a role in any effort to seek a settlement with the Taliban.
India, which supported the anti-Taliban Northern Alliance during the civil war, fears a return of the Taliban would embolden militant groups acting against it.