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Pakistan foreign minister in India for peace talks
by Staff Writers
New Delhi (AFP) July 26, 2011

Pakistan's first woman foreign minister urged India and Pakistan to shed the "burden" of history as she arrived in New Delhi on Tuesday for peace talks between the nuclear-armed rivals.

Hina Rabbani Khar is scheduled to meet her Indian counterpart S.M. Krishna on Wednesday for the first foreign minister-level dialogue in a year.

Khar said both countries needed to move forward as "friendly neighbours" who have "learnt lessons from history but are not burdened by history."

She also stressed the stake each has in the other's future and the joint responsibility they carry for ensuring a stable South Asia region.

India suspended peace talks with Islamabad after the 2008 Mumbai attacks, which it blamed on Pakistan-based militants.

Since then, both countries have taken tentative steps to get the process back on track, focusing on basic confidence-building measures and leaving aside core territorial disputes.

Indian Defence Minister A.K. Antony, speaking at a military ceremony Tuesday, stressed the importance of keeping the peace process going, even without any short-term breakthroughs.

"Our hope is that through dialogue, we will be able to find a solution in the long run," he said.

Analysts say relatively uncontentious trade and border issues, allowing freer movement of people and goods across the heavily militarised border, offer both sides the chance to make advances.

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said last week during a trip to India that she was "encouraged" by the dialogue between Indian and Pakistani leaders.

But there is little chance that Wednesday's talks will lead to progress in resolving the issues that have bedevilled the neighbours' relations for the last 60 years, bringing instability to South Asia.

Alexander Neil, an Asia analyst at the London-based Royal United Services Institute (RUSI), said levels of distrust were still far too high to push the dialogue ahead in any meaningful way.

"Public statements will be made on cooperation against terrorism but in reality there will not be any substantive progress... and the net result, I am sure, is simply that the status quo is maintained," Neil told AFP last week.

Wednesday's meeting with Krishna marks a high-profile debut for Khar, who was only appointed foreign minister last week.

At just 34 years of age, questions have been raised over whether she is experienced enough to handle one of the world's most fraught cross-border relationships which has led to three wars since 1947.

Krishna is 45 years her senior.

India is expected to press for more progress on tackling militants in Pakistan, while Pakistan is eager to address the vexed problem of the divided region of Kashmir.

After her arrival Tuesday, Khar met Kashmiri separatist leaders at the Pakistani High Commission in New Delhi.

The seemingly intractable territorial dispute over Kashmir was the trigger for two of the Indo-Pakistan wars and has repeatedly scuppered previous attempts at a comprehensive peace deal.

The foreign secretaries of both countries met in New Delhi on Tuesday for what the Indian side described as "cordial and positive" talks to prepare the way for the foreign ministers' discussions.

There had been concerns that the talks might not happen at all in the wake of serial blasts on July 13 in Mumbai that killed 24 people.

No group claimed responsibility and the Indian government refrained from speculating, but initial suspicions focused on a home-grown Islamist group with links to the Pakistan-based Lashkar-e-Taiba.

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