First official meeting between Pakistan, India since Mumbai attack is strained

They came, they met, they disagreed. The first formal meeting Thursday between India and Pakistan since the terrorist attack on the Indian city of Mumbai 15 months ago saw no breakthrough, as expected, although both sides termed it a first step in building confidence.

“I would not characterize these talks as successful or unsuccessful,” Pakistani Foreign Secretary Salman Bashir told reporters afterward. “We must pick up the pieces where this process was interrupted and try to rebuild trust.”

At first blush, however, the two delegations appeared more intent on talking over each other and repeating entrenched positions than in moving forward.

Indian Foreign Secretary Nirupama Rao said in a separate news conference that she had urged Pakistan to do a better job of rooting out and prosecuting terrorists on its soil who are suspected of plotting attacks on India -- particularly Hafiz Saeed, a militant leader whom India accused of orchestrating the Mumbai siege, in which gunmen killed 166 people.

India handed over dossiers on suspects it said Pakistan should pursue, including Saeed and an Al Qaeda-linked militant named Ilyas Kashmiri, who had issued threats against India and various Indian fugitives hiding in Pakistan.

“I stressed the importance of expeditious action by Pakistan on these issues,” Rao told reporters.

Indian and Western analysts have long suspected that Pakistani intelligence agencies created and supported radical groups as part of their country’s proxy conflict with India over the disputed region of Kashmir.

Pakistan countered with calls for comprehensive negotiations involving issues beyond terrorism, with a particular focus on reaching a political agreement over Kashmir.

Pakistan’s Bashir also said his country is the ultimate victim of terrorism, given some 3,000 attacks suffered over the last 26 months, and didn’t appreciated being lectured. He added that his government possessed photographic evidence of “Indian involvement in activities prejudicial to Pakistan’s security.”

This was an apparent reference to alleged Indian meddling in Pakistan’s restive southwestern Baluchistan province and in Afghanistan.

India’s Rao countered that her country didn’t intrude in other nations’ internal affairs.

After the dueling news conferences, the Indian media cited “government sources” in reporting official displeasure with Bashir’s comments, saying India didn’t lecture him, that Rao got her authority from a democratically elected government while he got his from the Pakistani army and that the terror attacks Pakistan suffered were of its own creation. This further underscored the enormous trust gap between the two sides.

The talks at New Delhi’s Hyderabad House lasted nearly four hours, running overtime. Rao declined to say whether the two nations’ prime ministers might soon meet, adding that the two sides did not discuss a road map for improved relations.

“We agreed to stay in touch,” she said. “We’re not talking about road maps.”

Anshul Rana in the Times’ New Delhi bureau contributed to this report.