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India, Pakistan Renew Commitment to Peace Process


South Asian rivals India and Pakistan have expressed their commitment to a peace process that New Delhi had put on hold following last month's serial bombings in its financial capital Mumbai. This is the first meeting between the two sides since the terror attacks that killed more than 180 people.

After informal talks on the sidelines of a South Asian regional conference in Bangladesh, the foreign secretaries of India and Pakistan struck a positive note, saying the peace process should not be adversely affected by the July 11 Mumbai bombings.

The meeting late Monday signaled a change in New Delhi's position. Last month, India postponed peace talks after saying that a Pakistan-based Islamic rebel group (Lashkar-e-Taiba) and Islamabad's military spy agency may have been involved in the bomb blasts that ripped apart commuter trains in Mumbai. Pakistan has strongly denied any link to the terror attacks.

In Dhaka, Indian foreign secretary Shyam Saran reiterated New Delhi's concerns about violence by Islamist militants based in Pakistan, but stressed that the peace dialogue is "important".

"Pakistan and India need to work together. We are neighbors and we are engaged in a peace process, which is important to both countries," said Saran. "And it is very important that in order to allow this process to move forward there must be a commitment to abandoning cross-border terrorism in whatever form it occurs."

Pakistani foreign secretary Riaz Mohammad Khan called the meeting with his Indian counterpart "positive", and said they discussed "how to move forward." He said there was no alternative to the peace process.

Since beginning the peace talks in January 2004, the two sides have made headway in restoring several cross-border travel links, although their core dispute over the divided territory of Kashmir remains unresolved.

No dates have yet been set for new talks but a former Indian ambassador to Islamabad, G. Parthasarthy, says he expects the peace process to regain momentum.

"I don't think it has taken any substantive setback," he said. "I for one have personally believed that several confidence-building measures have taken place particularly with regard to people-to-people contact and I would hope that those will continue."

The Mumbai blasts raised fears that the India-Pakistan peace process may have been jeopardized. But analysts say the nuclear rivals now want to halt a slide in relations that could endanger efforts to end decades of animosity.

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