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India and Pakistan leaders hold first talks since Mumbai

YEKATERINBURG, Russia (Reuters) - The leaders of India and Pakistan met Tuesday for the first time since last year’s attacks on Mumbai, in a tentative thaw which stopped well short of reopening a peace process between the two countries.

Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari (L) and Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh proceed to line up for a family photo at the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) summit in Yekaterinburg, June 16, 2009. REUTERS/Sergei Karpukhin

Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh told President Asif Ali Zardari he wanted him to ensure militants could not operate from Pakistan.

“I am happy to meet you, but my mandate is to tell you that the territory of Pakistan must not be used for terrorism,” Singh told President Asif Ali Zardari at a meeting on the sidelines of a Shanghai Cooperation Summit (SCO) in Russia.

His tough words suggested there would be no early resumption of formal peace talks broken off by India after last November’s attack on Mumbai by Pakistan-based militants.

The United States is keen to see the two countries improve relations so that Pakistan can concentrate on fighting Taliban militants on its western border with Afghanistan.

But officials nonetheless held out the prospect of a further meeting between Zardari and Singh at a summit of the Non-Aligned Movement in July -- suggesting the two countries might have at least begun to repair relations shattered by the Mumbai attacks.

Pakistan’s Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi said senior officials from the two countries would hold further talks to exchange information on terrorism, while the “political leadership” would meet in July.

An Indian official said Singh and Zardari would meet in July in Egypt, which is hosting the Non-Aligned Movement summit. “The issue they will discuss is primarily terrorism,” he said.

India blamed the Pakistan-based Lashkar-e-Taiba militant group for attack on Mumbai which killed 166 people.

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It has rejected Pakistan’s call to resume the 5-year-old peace process between the nuclear-armed rivals until Islamabad takes further action against the group.

India was incensed when a Pakistani court this month ordered the release from house arrest of Hafiz Mohammad Saeed, the founder of the Lashkar-e-Taiba. Islamabad says it needs more evidence from New Delhi for further action.

Singh also told the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation summit that all countries must cooperate to fight terrorism.

“It is imperative that we genuinely cooperate with one another and on a global scale to resolutely defeat international terrorism,” he said according to a text of his speech.

Indian analysts had said ahead of the meeting in Yekaterinburg, in the Urals, that they did not expect Singh to agree to reopen formal peace talks until Pakistan took further action against the Lashkar-e-Taiba.

But they said India was likely to show its willingness to talk to Pakistan, provided this was focussed on exchanging information on curbing terrorism.

Tariq Fatemi, a former Pakistani ambassador to the United States, said the leaders’ meeting showed recognition of the fact the two countries had to get talks back on track.

“India should take advantage of the fact that President Zardari and Prime Minister (Yusuf Raza) Gilani, and more importantly the main opposition leader, Mr Nawaz Sharif, are all in favour of the resumption of dialogue and in the improvement in relations with India,” Fatemi said.

Indian independent analyst B.G. Verghese said India wanted to convince Pakistan to take action against militant groups, while at the same time not slamming the door on the country’s fragile civilian government.

“As far as India is concerned, Pakistan must do something. What India wants is tangible action and it might happen,” he said. “If we dismiss the civilian government with contempt then it strengthens the position of the militants.

The two countries have fought three wars since independence in 1947, two over Kashmir. They both have observer status in the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation, which groups Russia, China and the former Soviet Central Asian republics.

(Additional reporting by Kamran Haider in Islamabad and Krittivas Mukherjee in New Delhi)

Writing by Myra MacDonald; Editing by Louise Ireland