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India Sends New Ambassador to Pakistan, Signaling Improving Relations - 2003-07-15

India's new ambassador to Islamabad has arrived in Pakistan on Tuesday to take up his position, restoring full diplomatic relations between the two rival nations after a gap of 18 months.

Indian ambassador Shiv Shankar Menon crossed into Pakistan by road at Wagah, the only official border post currently open between the two countries.

Mr. Menon, India's former ambassador to China, told reporters at the border that his job was improve relations with Pakistan.

His arrival restores full diplomatic relations between the rival South Asian nations. The development is expected to speed up the process of establishing normal relations, which means increasing embassy staff and restoring rail and air links.

Ties were suspended after a deadly attack by suspected Islamic militants on India's Parliament in December 2001. New Delhi blamed Pakistan for the assault, which raised border tensions and brought the two countries to the brink of another war.

But tensions subsided after Indian Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee announced in April he wanted to make a final attempt for peace. Since then, the two countries have taken steps that have raised hopes they could open official talks.

Pakistan sent its ambassador to India late last month.

Kashmir is the main cause of tensions between India and Pakistan. Both countries claim the divided region, which is mainly Muslim.

Pakistan insists that peaceful relations with India are linked to a final settlement of the Kashmir dispute. New Delhi insists the region is an integral part of India and accuses Pakistan of sponsoring a separatist movement in Indian-controlled Kashmir.

A former Pakistani ambassador, Mansoor Alam says both sides will have to show flexibility on Kashmir for lasting peace and stable relations.

"I think unless the two sides change their attitude on the Kashmir issue, things will not make much progress," he said. "That is also certain. We will have to realize that there has to be some give and take on both sides."

As relations have thawed, the two countries recently have seen an exchange of business and cultural groups. On Tuesday, the head of the Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam group in Pakistan crossed the border for meetings with the Indian branch of his group. Fazl-ur Rehman says it is important to build peace in the region.