NEW DELHI – India's prime minister said Wednesday that his country is again ready to talk peace with Pakistan following a six month freeze between the nuclear-armed rivals in the wake of last year's terror attack in Mumbai.
But Prime Minister Manmohan Singh cautioned that relations between the neighbors remain "under considerable stress" and progress would be slow — with each step forward dependent on Islamabad's willingness to take on anti-India militants.
If Pakistan shows "courage, determination and statesmanship to take the high road to peace, India will meet it more than half the way," Singh told reporters on board his airplane on the way back from a pair of summits in Russia.
The olive branch comes a day after Singh's first meeting with Pakistan President Asif Ali Zardari since the Mumbai attack, where he said he urged Zardari to take "strong and effective" action to end terrorism against India.
The three-day siege in Mumbai, India's financial center, killed 166 people. India has accused a Pakistan-based militant group of sending the teams of gunmen that rampaged through the city, and Pakistani officials have acknowledged the November attacks were partly plotted on their soil.
India and Pakistan have been adversaries for decades. They have fought three wars, two over the disputed territory of Kashmir, since gaining independence from Britain in 1947.
In 2001, a suicide attack on the Indian Parliament pushed them to the brink of war again, but tensions eventually subsided. They began formal peace talks in 2004, but they were put on hold after the Mumbai attacks.
India has accused Pakistani authorities of supporting militants fighting in Kashmir. India, the U.S. and other nations have urged Pakistan to do more to curb Islamic militant groups.
The next step toward resuming the peace process will come in July when the foreign secretaries of the two countries meet before the Nonaligned Summit in Cairo, Singh said.
After they "discuss what Pakistan is doing and can do to prevent terrorism from Pakistan against India," New Delhi will evaluate the situation and then decide how to move forward, Singh said.
India's key demand is that Pakistan prosecute those behind the Mumbai attacks, and any failure by Pakistan could quickly scuttle the nascent peace process.
Earlier this month India reacted with anger when a Pakistani court ordered the release of Hafiz Mohammed Saeed, the founder of the group India blames for the Mumbai siege.
India's hesitant approach is in marked contrast to Pakistan, which is believed to favor a quick resumption of all talks.
Tuesday's meeting was "an important first step towards reopening formal dialogue," Farah Isphahani, a spokeswoman for Zardari, said in a statement sent to The Associated Press.
Mehdi Hasan, a political analyst in Islamabad, said that from a Pakistani point of view "the resumption of the dialogue process between Pakistan and India should be 'the sooner the better."'
Indian analysts believe Pakistan wants to return to full peace talks to allow it to turn its attention to mounting internal instability and to improve its global image.
"Pakistan is increasingly isolated and it's important for it to be seen to be talking to India on the issue of terrorism," said Lalit Mansingh, India's former ambassador to the United States.
Singh and Zardari met briefly Tuesday in the Ural Mountains city of Yekaterinburg, Russia. The two nations have observer status in the six-nation Shanghai Cooperation Organization, which wrapped up a two-day summit Tuesday in Yekaterinburg. Singh also was taking part in a summit of the BRIC group linking Brazil, Russia, India and China.
The Indian media welcomed the meeting as the first sign of a cross-border thaw, with the Times of India newspaper saying it "signaled an important step — the India-Pakistan chill is now officially over."