India Says its Ready to Talk Peace with Pakistan

NEW DELHI (AP) - India's prime minister said Wednesday that his
country is again ready to talk peace with Pakistan following a
six-month freeze between the nuclear-armed rivals in the wake of
last year's terror attack in Mumbai.

But Prime Minister Manmohan Singh cautioned that relations
between the neighbors remain "under considerable stress" and
progress would be slow - with each step forward dependent on
Islamabad's willingness to take on anti-India militants.

If Pakistan shows "courage, determination and statesmanship to
take the high road to peace, India will meet it more than half the
way," Singh told reporters on board his airplane on the way back
from a pair of summits in Russia.

India's hesitant approach is in marked contrast to Pakistan,
which is believed to favor a quick resumption of all talks.

The olive branch comes a day after Singh's first meeting with
Pakistan President Asif Ali Zardari since the Mumbai attack, where
he said he urged Zardari to take "strong and effective" action to
end terrorism against India.

The three-day siege in Mumbai, India's financial center, killed
166 people. India has accused a Pakistan-based militant group of
sending the teams of gunmen that rampaged through the city, and
Pakistani officials have acknowledged the November attacks were
partly plotted on their soil.

India and Pakistan have been adversaries for decades. They have
fought three wars, two over the disputed territory of Kashmir,
since gaining independence from Britain in 1947.

In 2001, a suicide attack on the Indian Parliament pushed them
to the brink of war again, but tensions eventually subsided. They
began formal peace talks in 2004, but they were put on hold after
the Mumbai attacks.

India has accused Pakistani authorities of supporting militants
fighting in Kashmir. India, the U.S. and other nations have urged
Pakistan to do more to curb Islamic militant groups.

The next step toward resuming the peace process will come in
July when the foreign secretaries of the two countries meet before
the Nonaligned Summit in Cairo, Singh said.

After they "discuss what Pakistan is doing and can do to
prevent terrorism from Pakistan against India," New Delhi will
evaluate the situation and then decide how to move forward, Singh
said.

India's key demand is that Pakistan prosecute those behind the
Mumbai attacks, and any failure by Pakistan could quickly scuttle
the nascent peace process.

Earlier this month India reacted with anger when a Pakistani
court ordered the release of Hafiz Mohammed Saeed, the founder of
the group India blames for the Mumbai siege.

Farah Isphahani, a spokeswoman for Zardari, said Tuesday's
meeting was "an important first step towards reopening formal
dialogue."

Mehdi Hasan, a political analyst in Islamabad, said that from a
Pakistani point of view "the resumption of the dialogue process
between Pakistan and India should be 'the sooner the better."'

Indian analysts believe Pakistan wants to return to full peace
talks to allow it to turn its attention to mounting internal
instability and to improve its global image.

"Pakistan is increasingly isolated and it's important for it to
be seen to be talking to India on the issue of terrorism," said
Lalit Mansingh, India's former ambassador to the United States.

Singh and Zardari met briefly Tuesday in the Ural Mountains city
of Yekaterinburg, Russia. The two nations have observer status in
the six-nation Shanghai Cooperation Organization, which wrapped up
a two-day summit Tuesday in Yekaterinburg. Singh also was taking
part in a summit of the BRIC group linking Brazil, Russia, India
and China.

The Indian media welcomed the meeting as the first sign of a
cross-border thaw, with the Times of India newspaper saying it
"signaled an important step - the India-Pakistan chill is now
officially over."


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