AGENCE FRANCE PRESSE
ISLAMABAD: India and Pakistan are to hold talks on peace and security issues, part of efforts to stabilise South Asia as the United States prepares to draw down troops from Afghanistan.
Concerns over terrorism are likely to dominate India's agenda on Thursday, just weeks after US troops killed Osama bin Laden in a Pakistani military town on May 2.
A four-year peace process between the nuclear-armed rivals collapsed after Islamist gunmen killed 166 people in Mumbai in November 2008.
India blamed the attack on Pakistani militants from the banned Lashkar-e-Taiba group and Islamabad acknowledged that the plot was hatched at least partly on its soil.
Following a hiatus of more than two years, the two countries announced talks would resume after a meeting between Pakistani foreign secretary Salman Bashir and his Indian counterpart Nirupama Rao in Bhutan in February.
The two civil servants, the highest-ranking career diplomats in their respective ministries, will now come together for two days of discussions in Islamabad before Pakistan's foreign minister is due to visit India next month.
No breakthroughs are expected, but the contacts are considered part of efforts to stabilise the region after US President Barack Obama announced the start of US troop withdrawals from Afghanistan.
The international community has been pushing the two sides to get back to the negotiating table to help ease tensions in an already volatile region.
"We have to be patient, realistic and positive," Indian Foreign Minister S.M. Krishna said this week, calling for terrorism to be dealt with "firmly and transparently".
Rao would arrive late morning and the talks would get underway at around 3:30 pm (1030 GMT), a Pakistani foreign ministry official said.
New Delhi has long accused its neighbour of harbouring militant groups, but analysts say it is becoming increasingly concerned that growing unrest in Pakistan could compromise the safety of the country's growing nuclear arsenal.
Pakistan's foreign ministry spokeswoman Tehmina Janjua has said the talks would discuss "peace and security, including confidence building measures, Jammu and Kashmir, and promotion of friendly exchanges".
Relations between India and Pakistan, which have fought three wars since the subcontinent was partitioned in 1947, have been plagued by border and resource disputes, and accusations of Pakistani militant activity against India.
Two of the three wars were over the disputed Kashmir region, where Kashmiri militants have been fighting New Delhi's rule for two decades in an insurgency that has claimed tens of thousands of lives.
After the Mumbai carnage, Delhi and Islamabad began to explore a resumption of structured talks last year, and Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and his Pakistani counterpart Yousuf Raza Gilani met in Thimphu in April 2010.
Talks on the disputed Himalayan glacier of Siachen, where troops have clashed intermittently since 1984, concluded a month ago without progress.
"There will be no major breakthrough in the talks but I am sure that the process will now go on to enable the two countries to discuss and sort out issues," Pakistani foreign policy analyst A.H.Nayyar told AFP.
"As for the issue of terrorism, it will be justified on India's part if their officials raise this issue because this problem has been gaining roots but we have not been able to tackle it."