(AFP) – Jul 31, 2008
COLOMBO (AFP) — The leaders of South Asian rivals India and Pakistan are to meet in Sri Lanka this week for their highest-level talks in 15 months and to see if they can hold together their embattled peace process.
Relations between New Delhi and Islamabad, who have fought three wars since partition in 1947, hit another low point this month after India said "elements" in Pakistan were behind the recent bombing of its Kabul embassy.
There has also been an increase in incidents along the Line of Control dividing the Himalayan region of Kashmir, with the Indian army accusing Pakistani soldiers of crossing the border on Monday and killing an Indian soldier.
Amid the growing tensions between the nuclear-armed rivals, Indian Foreign Minister Pranab Mukherjee is expected to meet his Pakistani counterpart Shah Mehmood Qureshi on the sidelines of a South Asia regional meeting in Sri Lanka this week.
Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh will also be meeting his Pakistani counterpart Yousuf Raza Gilani at the eight-member South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SSARC) summit which begins on Saturday.
"The meeting (between Singh and Gilani) is being scheduled," a Sri Lankan official involved with the arrangements told AFP.
The talks also follow a series of bomb attacks in India's southern IT hub of Bangalore and the western Ahmedabad city over the weekend.
New Delhi blames Pakistan's spy agency, the Inter-Services Intelligence, of masterminding the July 7 attack on its embassy in Kabul that killed at least 41 people.
It has yet to point a finger over the weekend serial bombings, claimed by a little-known Islamist group calling itself the "Indian Mujahedeen".
But the complaint of a Kashmir incursion by Pakistani troops on Monday is the first to be made by India since 1999, when the South Asian rivals fought a mini-war in the Kargil peaks along the Line of Control.
Pakistan in turn blames India for fueling sectarian violence on its soil, and alleges India's external intelligence agency tried to assassinate its ambassador to Sri Lanka in a roadside bomb attack in Colombo in August 2006.
"I think the effort of both sides will be to see that even if there is no breakthrough, there is no break-off," said analyst C. Uday Bhaskar, former head of the Institute of Defence Studies and Analyses think-tank in New Delhi.
Retired Indian diplomat Kanwal Sibal also said that "both countries will aim to keep the dialogue process alive."
"The level of trust that had been slowly built up over the past four years has been affected," Sibal said. "This in turn will affect the content of the dialogue process."
Last week Indian Foreign Secretary Shiv Shankar Menon said the peace process, launched in 2004, was "under stress," but said talks should continue.
Two years ago, New Delhi stalled the dialogue process in the aftermath of a series of bomb blasts on commuter trains in India's commercial capital Mumbai in which 186 people were killed -- an attack also blamed in Islamabad.
It was resumed only after Premier Singh and Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf agreed to constitute an anti-terror panel to share intelligence on such attacks.
Indian security analyst Bharat Karnad, with the New Delhi-based Centre for Policy Research, said that the future of the India-Pakistan peace talks depended on the "political will" of the two governments.
"I think the two governments will be under pressure to ensure the talks do not break down as the common people on both sides will not accept the floundering of relations after the recent rapprochement," he said.
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