Wary India, Pakistan compare notes on counter-terrorism

ISLAMABAD Tue Jun 24, 2008 8:27am EDT

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ISLAMABAD (Reuters) - Pakistan and India held counter-terrorism talks in Islamabad on Tuesday amid mutual suspicion over each other's involvement in insurgencies raging in border areas.

Although the talks were meant to take place on a quarterly basis, this was only the third meeting of the "anti-terrorism mechanism" since Indian and Pakistani leaders agreed to establish it in September 2006.

The initiative aimed to provide a platform for information exchange and assistance in investigations, and came two months after train bombings in the Indian city of Mumbai killed at least 180 people, casting a pall over a peace process the nuclear armed rivals began in 2004.

A joint statement released after Tuesday's meeting gave no further details on the content of the talks.

The quality of exchanges, however, was only likely to improve once more trust was established between the neighbours who in 2002 went to the brink of war, having already fought three since the 1947 partition of India.

Pakistan's new civilian-led government, formed three months ago, has high hopes of building better relations with India.

Pakistan Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi was scheduled to visit New Delhi on Friday to get to know Indian leaders better and exchange ideas on moving relations forward on Kashmir, a trans-border gas pipeline from Iran, and trade and economic issues.

"The atmospherics are very positive with India," Foreign Office spokesman Mohammad Sadiq said.

Infiltration by militants from Pakistan into Kashmir, India's only Muslim majority state, has dropped off substantially since the peace process started, though there are fears it will rise ahead of local elections due later this year.

In the last two years India has suffered bomb attacks by Islamist militants on cities outside Kashmir, including Mumbai, New Delhi, Hyderabad, Ajmer, Varanasi, and last month, Jaipur.

The security situation has deteriorated in Pakistan as well.

It has been under internal attack from militants opposed to President Pervez Musharraf's alliance in 2001 with the United States in its war on terrorism.

Since mid-2007, Pakistan has reeled from a wave of suicide attacks mounted by Pakistani Taliban and al Qaeda-linked militants based in tribal lands close to the Afghan border.

Yet India is concerned Pakistan has not come down hard enough on banned militant organizations like Lashkar-e-Taiba and Jaish-e-Mohammed, based in the central province of Punjab.

For its part, Pakistan remains suspicious of the activities of Indian consulates in Afghanistan.

Senior Pakistani military officers and bureaucrats privately accuse India of helping separatists wage a low-level insurgency in the western province of Baluchistan, and also say India is helping to destabilize the Pashtun tribal region on the Afghan border as it takes Pakistani troops away from the Indian border.

(Additional reporting by Augustine Anthony; Editing by Ben Tan)

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