NEW DELHI (Reuters) - Pakistan has agreed to allow a visit by Indian investigators as part of their probe into the 2008 Mumbai militant attacks in a significant confidence building measure between the nuclear-armed neighbours.
Civil servants in charge of security issues ended two days of talks in New Delhi Tuesday, seeking to rebuild trust after the Mumbai attacks that had raised fears of a fourth war between the two countries.
Wednesday, the two nations’ prime ministers will attend what is expected to be a highly charged World Cup cricket semi-final between India and Pakistan in the northern Indian town of Mohali.
India has long sought permission to have its investigators visit Pakistan to help their inquiries into the attacks.
The breakthrough is a further boost ahead of ministerial talks in July that will cover issues such as the disputed territory of Kashmir and efforts to clamp down on terrorism — in what is known as the “composite dialogue.”
India has been frustrated at what it sees as Pakistan’s reluctance to bring the perpetrators of terror to justice, feeding a climate of mistrust that is the legacy of three wars the South Asian neighbours have fought since independence in 1947.
“The talks are extremely positive,” Indian Home Secretary G.K. Pillai told reporters. “We have moved forward and the trust deficit has reduced.”
The two sides also agreed to set up a hot line to discuss terror threats in real time.
Dates for a visit to Pakistan have not been decided, but a Pakistani delegation would travel to India within 4-6 weeks, according to a joint statement.
“It’s a major step forward,” said Siddharth Varadarajan, Strategic Affairs Editor at the Hindu newspaper, adding it would hopefully accelerate diplomatic efforts for July.
Former Pakistani Interior Secretary Tasneem Noorani called the agreement to allow Indian investigators into Pakistan a breakthrough.
“I think there are big breakthroughs in the sense that the stumbling block was the Mumbai attack issue and there seems to be progress on it,” he said.
“Both Pakistan and India are saying, ‘All right, let’s proceed ahead, you send your chaps and we will send our chaps and let’s get on with it.’”
India suspended ties after 166 people were killed in the Mumbai attacks which India blamed on Pakistan-based militants acting in collusion with elements of the government, including Pakistan’s spy agency.
India wants Islamabad to act against groups operating from its soil, including Pakistan-based militant group Lashkar-e-Taiba, or LeT, said to be behind the Mumbai massacre.
Pakistan has acknowledged the attacks were plotted and partly launched from its territory, and has put on trial seven suspects linked to LeT, which has been fighting Indian forces in Kashmir since the early 1990s.
Peace efforts have been stop-start for years with little progress on the future of Kashmir, which is divided between India, Pakistan and China. High-profile militant attacks such as Mumbai and an attack on the Indian parliament in 2001 have seriously strained relations.
Writing by Matthias Williams; Additional reporting by Augustine Anthony in ISLAMABAD; Editing by Alistair Scrutton and Ian Geoghegan