NEW DELHI – Senior Indian and Pakistani officials pledged Thursday to improve frosty relations between their nations after a meeting between their prime ministers at the periphery of a regional summit in Bhutan.
Lowering the temperature between the two wary nuclear neighbors has been a key U.S. goal in its broader bid to root out terrorism in South Asia.
As Washington sees it, the more troops Pakistan can shift from its border with India to the porous divide it shares with Afghanistan, the better are the odds of routing Taliban and al-Qaida insurgents operating in the Muslim nation’s lawless tribal areas.
In separate news conferences at the conclusion of a one-hour meeting between Pakistani Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani and Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, officials on both sides pledged to restore trust and open discussions on “all issues of mutual concern.”
While India and Pakistan have been here many times before, only to see relations quickly deteriorate, the positive tone represents a break with months of squabbling and sniping.
As a next step, the foreign ministers are expected to meet, reportedly without preconditions, toward a stated goal of normalizing relations.
“There’s been a lot of soul-searching here,” Nirupama Rao, India’s foreign secretary, told reporters in Bhutan, which hosted the two-day summit that ended Thursday. “We need to take things forward. This is good for the two countries and good for the region.”
A few rooms away in Thimphu, the Bhutanese capital, Pakistan Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi echoed her sentiments. “The atmosphere was extremely cordial and warm,” he said. “We are ready to engage with them tonight if they are ready.”
“It’s a bit of win-win,” said political analyst Sushant Sareen. “They managed to push the dialog process a bit.”
The announcement also was made with a mutual ally in mind, analysts said. “There is pressure coming from Washington directed at both sides,” said Lalit Mansingh, an analyst and former Indian ambassador to the U.S. “So the United States should be happy.”