India and Pakistan will take the first tentative step towards resumption of dialogue with the arrival of a delegation led by Pakistan Foreign Secretary Salman Bashir for talks with his counterpart Nirupama Rao here on Thursday.

Talks between India and Pakistan were suspended since the Mumbai terror attacks in November 2008 barring a few contacts at multilateral meetings.

Both sides remained noncommittal about the outcome, with India stating that it was going to the talks with “an open mind” but was fully conscious of the limitations imposed by the “trust deficit” post Mumbai. “However, we are not judging the outcome given the complexities involved. We will use the opportunity to clear the air as much as possible and seek to take the first step, even if small, towards opening the possibility of future dialogue,” added sources.

“Good to be back here”

After arriving here, Mr. Bashir said: “It is good to be back here. I have come to bridge differences. I hope for a positive outcome.”

PTI quoted him in Islamabad as saying that it would be “better not to view these talks from the point of success or failure. Let’s wait till tomorrow [Thursday].”

India ruled out a joint statement but both sides have scheduled separate press conferences after the talks which are expected to last two hours. Sources in the Ministry of External Affairs here termed Pakistan’s acceptance of talks in Delhi as a “positive signal” and said India’s focus would be the terror issue.

Mr. Bashir and his delegation will leave by road for Pakistan via Amritsar on Friday due to the absence of a Pakistan International Airlines flight on that day.

Opening his engagements after reaching a luxury hotel, he met three factions of Kashmiri separatist leaders led by Mirwaiz Umar Farooq (Hurriyat Moderate and chief of the All Party Hurriyat Conference), Syed Ali Shah Geelani (Hurriyat hardline) and Mohd. Yasin Malik (Jammu & Kashmir Liberation Front).

Briefing journalists later, the Kashmiri leaders said Mr. Bashir had asked all separatist groups to work under one banner “help realise people their goal.” He asked Mr. Geelani and Mr. Farooq about unification of the Hurriyat with the former pointing out that the Hurriyat constitution of 1993 was a pre-condition for any effort in this direction. Mr. Farooq told the Pakistani Foreign Secretary that though there was difference of opinion in the separatist camp, the goal was the same. He complained that Pakistan was supporting “smaller” parties.

Mr. Malik sought a place on the dialogue table and wondered how a solution could emerge without the participation of the basic party. India and Pakistan were holding talks without taking the people of Kashmir into confidence and their inclusion in the dialogue process was a must as it was their future which was being discussed.

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