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Terrorism lingers over India-Pakistan peace talks

Terrorism concerns loomed as India-Pakistan peace talks resumed Thursday for the first time since the November 2008 Mumbai attacks. Though India has seen little terrorism since, it pressed Pakistan on the topic and handed over three dossiers on suspected militants operating in Pakistan.

By Mian RidgeCorrespondent / February 25, 2010

Pakistani foreign secretary Salman Bashir talks to journalists after a press conference in New Delhi, India, Thursday. India-Pakistan peace talks resumed Thursday for the first time since the November 2008 Mumbai attacks.

Saurabh Das/AP

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New Delhi

Terrorism was a top item during the first formal India-Pakistan peace talks between the nuclear-armed rivals since the Mumbai attacks of November 2008.

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Pakistani Foreign Minister Salman Bashir met his Indian counterpart, Nirupama Rao, in India’s capital on Thursday, 15 months after the attacks, which many in India blamed on Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence Agency (ISI). The assault on India’s financial capital, which killed 174 people, prompted India to suspend a formal peace process with its neighbor.

Ms Rao called Thursday's meeting "a first step toward rebuilding trust," but she also expressed concerns about terror groups operating inside Pakistan.

Speaking at a news conference following the meeting, Rao said she reiterated to Mr. Bashir that Pakistan must do more to dismantle terror networks and gave him dossiers on those linked to the Mumbai attacks, an al-Qaida-linked militant who has issued threats against India, and Indian fugitives hiding in Pakistan.

Bashir, for his part, said: "As far as the issue of Mumbai is concerned, Pakistan has done everything that was proper and could be done."

Since the Mumbai attacks, India has been largely terror free, which has allowed Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to push ahead for dialogue with Pakistan, despite popular opposition.

But on Feb. 13, a day after the date for new talks was announced, a bomb ripped through a cafe in Pune, in the southern state of Maharashtra, killing 16 people. Indian authorities are investigating whether the attack was organized by Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT), the Pakistani militant group held responsible for the Mumbai carnage, but no firm link has yet been verified.

The blast in Pune made India ever keener to put terrorism top of the agenda Thursday and in any subsequent talks. In particular, India wants to focus on its demands for Pakistan to crack down on militant groups including LeT.

“I think Pakistan has to show it is coming out of denial mode about terrorism,” says Ajit Doval, the former director of the Intelligence Bureau of India. “It sends a very negative signal if it does not put a proper ban on LeT. We cannot move ahead until it takes serious action on terrorist groups that are targeting India. If it does that, let’s go ahead.”

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