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India to Restore Diplomatic Relations with Pakistan - 2003-05-02


India says it will re-establish full diplomatic ties with Pakistan, after relations between the two countries suffered a serious rift almost two years ago. Pakistan's foreign minister says his country welcomes the move and hopes talks can be resumed as soon as possible.

Indian Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee told parliament New Delhi will appoint a high commissioner to Islamabad, and resume commercial flights. The Indian leader says this will be done on a "reciprocal basis."

Islamabad welcomed the Indian announcement. Pakistani Information Minister Sheikh Rashid Ahmed called it a "good gesture."

The Indian announcement comes just days after Pakistani Prime Minister Zafarullah Khan Jamali had a telephone conversation with Mr. Vajpayee, breaking a two-year silence between the two countries.

The countries downgraded diplomatic ties, and cut rail, air and road links following an attack on the Indian parliament in December 2001. India blamed the attack on Pakistan-backed militants, and the event led to a tense military confrontation between the two countries last year.

The Indian leader says his government is committed to improving relations with Pakistan, and is willing to grasp every opportunity for doing so. But he says there is no need for international mediation. Mr. Vajpayee says the two countries should consider steps to restore cultural, economic, and sporting ties which were affected by last year's confrontation.

The Indian prime minister told lawmakers Pakistan must end its support for what New Delhi calls cross-border terrorism in Indian Kashmir.

The confidence-building measures announced by the Indian government Friday are seen as a possible prelude to restoring dialogue between New Delhi and Islamabad, which was last held in July 2001.

The peace initiative comes just days before U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage is due to visit the region.

The South Asian rivals have fought three wars, including two over Kashmir, which is divided between them, but is claimed in its entirety by both. Western countries, worried by the hostile relationship between the nuclear-armed rivals, have been urging them to open talks to settle their differences over Kashmir.