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Pakistan's foreign minister: The face of a new generation of peace with India?

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Manish Swarup/AP

(Read caption) Indian Foreign Minister S.M. Krishna, left, and his Pakistan counterpart Hina Rabbani Khar arrive for talks in New Delhi, India, July 27. The ministers met Wednesday for the first time since the nuclear-armed rivals resumed peace talks in February. Those talks were suspended after Pakistan-based militants attacked the city of Mumbai in November 2008.

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A fresh face is bringing new optimism to one of the oldest international spats. On her first visit to New Delhi, Pakistan’s new 34-year-old foreign minister said she is hopeful that a younger generation of Indians and Pakistanis can find peace.

“A new generation of Indians and Pakistanis will see a relationship that will hopefully be much different from the one that has been experienced in the last two decades,” said Hina Rabbani Khar, Pakistan’s youngest-ever foreign minister.

One indication of that happening: Social-media interactions between the two countries are burgeoning. Facebook reports that their site is now logging more than 200,000 interactions between Indians and Pakistanis each day. That’s up from 70,000 a day in April.

Peace in South Asia is going to take more than a photogenic foreign minister and Facebook friendships. But it’s difficult to imagine popular support for any peace deal without first building some connection between the residents of both countries.

“People-to-people ties and a decisive boost in cultural exchanges is perhaps the only way that India and Pakistan can bury the hatchet and move ahead to resolve more pressing problems in their respective economies like poverty and unemployment,” reads a May 2010 analysis from Team C-Voter, a polling outfit in Noida.

The polling group found at the time that 74 percent of Indians agreed with the statement that “whatever be the situation at the government or administrative level, the common people [of the two countries] are united.”

What does that mean?

The two governments appear to recognize this, announcing today a new deal to slightly expand the very limited trade and travel across South Asia’s iron curtain. A list of 21 permissible products will now be allowed to be traded across the Line of Control that divides Pakistani-controlled Kashmir from the Indian-controlled side four days a week instead of two. The two bus links will now become more frequent as well.

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