India and Pakistan have agreed to hold a meeting of their top security officials while India's Prime Minister has accepted an invitation to attend a summit in Pakistan next year in a rare step forward in troubled ties between the neighbours.
Indian leader Narendra Modi met Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif on the sidelines of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation summit in Ufa, Russia, yesterday, with both sides agreeing to a meeting between their national security advisers to discuss "all issues related to terrorism". Dates are yet to be worked out for the meeting in Delhi.
Mr Modi's visit to Pakistan for the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation summit will be the first by an Indian Prime Minister to Pakistan in more than a decade.
Ties between the two countries are frosty, and on the eve of the meeting between the two leaders, India had accused Pakistan of violating a 2003 ceasefire agreement and firing across the border in the middle of the week, killing at least two Indian soldiers.
The two neighbours have gone to war thrice in the past and regularly exchange fire along their border in spite of the ceasefire agreement.
India has also accused Pakistan of doing little to stop cross-border terrorism and has been seeking action against the Pakistan-based militant group Lashkar-e-Taiba for its 2008 Mumbai terror attacks.
A key area of tension has been the slow pace of a trial taking place in Pakistan against seven people for involvement in the Mumbai terror plot, including Zaki-ur-Rehman Lakhvi, whom India considers the mastermind of the attacks in which more than 160 people died.
A joint statement released after the talks yesterday said the two sides would also "discuss ways and means" to expedite the trial.
The statement further said top officials of the border forces from both sides will meet in an effort to cool tensions along the border.
But the effort to improve ties has received mixed reactions both in India and Pakistan.
In Pakistan, senator Sherry Rehman said Islamabad's concerns were not reflected in the joint statement, in an apparent reference to the absence of any mention of Kashmir, a region which both countries claim as their own.
"We support Sharif in peace moves but statement should reflect Pakistan's concerns... Right now it's one-sided," she tweeted.
In India, political party Shiv Sena, an ally of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party, added to the opposition chorus, criticising Mr Modi for holding talks with Mr Sharif when tensions were running high along the border.
Still, analysts believe it would be easier for Mr Modi, who runs a majority government, than Mr Sharif to get domestic support for the latest initiative.
Mr Modi, since coming to power in May last year, has made improving ties with neighbours and pushing regional economic engagement a key priority of his foreign policy.
However, managing ties with Pakistan has proved to be tricky. Mr Modi invited Mr Sharif, along with other South Asian leaders, for his swearing-in, but three months later called off foreign secretary-level talks after Pakistan's Ambassador to India Abdul Basit met Kashmiri separatists in Delhi.
Analysts said how ties progress depend on how the two sides move forward on the latest initiative. "This is not quite a breakthrough but a positive development which shows ties are being defrosted and dialogue at different levels are being opened up," said former Indian foreign secretary Lalit Mansingh. "But they did not say they are resuming the peace process, which is still in limbo."
This article was first published on July 11, 2015.
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