NEW DELHI, Feb 4: India and Pakistan on Monday signed an agreement to exchange security information, officials said, opening up a new channel of communication between the two countries.

The accord clears the way for regular contact between India’s military-funded Institute of Defence Studies and Analysis (IDSA) and Pakistan’s state-run Institute for Strategic Studies (ISS).

“The purpose is to build channels of communication at the level of scholars, because exchanges of security studies had been limited because of the strained ties we have had,” ISDA director Narendra Sisodia told AFP.

The former Indian defence secretary, who signed the accord with his counterpart in the ISS, Shireen Mazari, said it was a landmark deal because “except for contacts at international forums, we never had open discussions on security issues.” The pact, first mooted by India in 2004, stipulates that the two think tanks will send experts to participate in state-sponsored workshops in India and Pakistan and later engage in joint military research projects.

The dialogue has led to closer political contact and greater transport links, but the two armies have shunned direct contact except for annual discussions on unresolved disputes.

The two sides hailed the agreement as an “important” deal and said it would contribute to the peace process.

“This collaborative arrangement is considered an important confidence-building measure between India and Pakistan,” an official statement issued after the signing said.

The pact would help “establish direct academic and scholarly ties, exchange of ideas on issues of common concern and conduct of scholarly conferences, seminars and round-tables,” it added.

IDSA’s Sisodia however cautioned the accord between the IDSA and the ISS would not replace any official dialogue.

“We should not expect this to be a surrogate for anything official,” he said.

“Holding any dialogue with Pakistan on a non-official level had never been easy and hence huge gaps still exist,” added Sujit Dutta, the head of IDSA’s South Asian Studies unit.

“However, this may help us to achieve some frank exchanges of views which will see where our thinking goes,” he said.—AFP