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Pakistan, India Signal 'New Era' of Cooperation

  • Kurt Achin

Pakistan's Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar (R) shakes hands with Indian counterpart Somanahalli Mallaiah Krishna before their meeting in New Delhi July 27, 2011.

Pakistan's Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar (R) shakes hands with Indian counterpart Somanahalli Mallaiah Krishna before their meeting in New Delhi July 27, 2011.

The foreign ministers of India and Pakistan have hailed a "new era of cooperation," after meeting for the first time since peace talks between the rival nations resumed earlier this year. The officials promised to initiate new trade and travel contacts across their disputed border.

Indian External Affairs Minister S.M. Krishna accentuated the positive Wednesday, following talks with newly appointed Pakistani Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar in the Indian capital.

"We have some distance to travel, but with an open mind, and a constructive approach ... I am sure we can reach our desired destination," Krishna said.

The peace dialogue between India and Pakistan resumed in February, following a two-year freeze after the 2008 terrorist attack on Mumbai. India blamed Pakistan-based Islamist militants for the three-day siege on the country's financial hub.

India has long pressed Pakistan to provide further information into the probe, including voice samples of suspects accused in the attacks. Pakistan's Foreign Secretary Salman Bashir, who was also in New Delhi for the talks, told reporters Wednesday there had been some progress on the issue in ways that have not been publicized.

And Indian Foreign Minister Krishna noted the two sides share an understanding on key security issues.

"We have agreed that terrorism poses a continuing threat," Krishna added. "We have also agreed on the need to strengthen cooperation on counter-terrorism, to bring those responsible for terror crimes to justice."

The foreign ministers announced India and Pakistan will double the opportunity for traders to cross the so-called "Line of Control" in disputed Kashmir, from two to four days a week. Khar and Krishna also promised to expand travel opportunities for tourism and religious pilgrimages across the tense border separating the Himalayan region.

India and Pakistan have fought two wars for control of the Kashmir Valley, and the dispute remains the key irritant in diplomacy between the two nuclear-armed neighbors.

Khar, 34, is Pakistan's youngest-ever foreign minister. As she stood next to Krishna, more than 40 years her senior, she spoke of a good personal connection during talks.

"I am more confident today, having met you ... than I was yesterday when I arrived in New Delhi, which to me is a good sign," Khar said.

Khar said younger generations in both India and Pakistan are hopeful for better relations than in past decades.

"This is indeed a new era of bilateral cooperation between the two countries, and... I wish to convey to the people of India Pakistan's desire to open a new chapter of amity and understanding between our two countries," said Khar.

The two senior diplomats say they are committed to sustaining dialogue, and that their next minister-level meeting will take place next year.

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