India and Pakistan's resumption of talks last week, suspended for 15 months, made sense and was an important first step toward bringing equilibrium to the dangerous region of South Asia.
India had broken off dialogue with Pakistan in the wake of attacks in Mumbai in November 2008 that claimed 163 lives. Its feeling was that Pakistan has not taken the right steps to clamp down on the militant groups there which mounted the attacks.
At the same time, it is critical for the world that these two countries be in close communication. Both have nuclear weapons. Neither has signed the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty. They have fought three wars since the cataclysmic independence of both in 1947. Both governments, in need of concentrating their countries' resources on areas other than their militaries and defense, have good reason to keep the lines of communication open.
The bone of contention continues to be the disputed territory of Kashmir, which is split between them. Both countries maintain high levels of military force at the border, the so-called "line of control." Some believe that an agreement between the two on an autonomous, demilitarized Kashmir may have been near when the Mumbai incident occurred.
They met in New Delhi last Thursday at the level of foreign secretary, with Nirupama Rao leading the Indian delegation and Salman Bashir, the Pakistanis. Subjects on the agenda included water, trade, Kashmir and Afghanistan. No breakthroughs were announced publicly afterwards.
In Afghanistan both are positioning themselves for influence as that country becomes more independent from the preeminent American role there. The last thing Afghanistan, the region and the United States need at the moment is for it to become a battleground between India and Pakistan. In the more immediate future, the United States would like to see both sides step back in military terms from Kashmir so that Pakistan could concentrate more of its military forces on fighting the Taliban in Pakistan and in the Afghanistan-Pakistan border area.
The Obama administration strongly favors these talks, but is also wisely keeping quiet about them, so as not to add an American element to what is already a touchy relationship.