With US promising a 'Kashmir road map', the two agree to restore diplomatic ties and resume air links India and Pakistan yesterday agreed to restore top-level diplomatic ties and resume air links, ending a two-year-long hiatus in relations. In the latest step in what is clearly a well-orchestrated move towards detente, Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee announced the decision to appoint a high commissioner in Islamabad, recalled after a terrorist strike on India's parliament in December 2001. He also said that civil aviation links, snapped as the two hostile neighbours almost went to war two years ago, would be restored on a reciprocal basis. Pakistan responded positively to Mr Vajpayee's gesture of peace, which came just four days after Mr Vajpayee got an unprecedented 'friendship' telephone call from his counterpart in Islamabad, Mir Zafarullah Khan Jamali. 'Let's have a positive start, we hope we will resolve our issues amicably across the table,' Pakistan's Information Minister Sheikh Rashid Ahmed said. The announcement removed any doubts that either country may step back from the renewed efforts to establish normal relations and work towards a resolution of the Kashmir dispute. 'We are committed to the improvement of relations with Pakistan and are willing to grasp every opportunity for doing so,' Mr Vajpayee said in parliament. Later addressing the upper house, the prime minister made it clear that he is prepared to go the distance for one last attempt at realising his dream of peace. 'At least in my life, this would be the last time I would be making an effort to normalise India-Pakistan relations,' he said. The fresh initiative also received the qualified support of Hindu nationalists who are otherwise totally hostile towards the idea of peace. 'We welcome good-neighbourly relations between India and Pakistan,' said Madan Dass Devi, an official of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), or National Volunteer Corps, the powerful right-wing Hindu organisation backing the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). But Mr Devi also warned the government not to 'take the Pakistan response at its face value'. The change of mood comes just as the United States increases pressure on the two sides to resolve their differences over Kashmir. Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage will be leading a team of officials for talks in Islamabad and New Delhi later next week. India is extremely sensitive though to any hint of outside mediation in its relations with Pakistan. Mr Vajpayee was forced to respond in Parliament yesterday to a report in the Pakistani daily The News that the US has set a December 2004 deadline for resolving the dispute. 'The India-Pakistan issue is a bilateral issue. No third party has any role in it,' Mr Vajpayee said when asked about the Pakistani report. According to The News, before leaving for Baghdad, former general Jay Garner, the American administrator in charge of reconstruction in Iraq, said after a private banquet in Kuwait that the US would soon come out with a 'Kashmir road map' for a permanent resolution of the dispute. Not much credence is being given in New Delhi to the Pakistani report. Mr Vajpayee is more concerned though about the violence in Kashmir. Any move towards normalising relations with Pakistan will depend on the situation in Kashmir, where Pakistan-backed separatist Muslim insurgents have been battling Indian security forces since 1989. Kashmiri insurgents have stepped up their activity in recent weeks, and Mr Vajpayee again warned yesterday that talks with Pakistan could not begin unless 'cross-border terrorism' stopped. But in an interview with the London-based Pakistani satellite channel ARY, excerpts from which were widely broadcast on Indian TV channels, Pakistan's President Pervez Musharraf again pleaded for the early resumption of dialogue between the two sides. 'First of all, we start talking. After the talks, we should mutually accept that we have to resolve all issues including Kashmir, and Kashmir is the core issue,' he said. General Musharraf said there was no road map for the resolution of the Kashmir issue, but things could improve with an approach based on phases. 'It is not a time-based road map. It is a road map of negotiations,' he said. He described the latest developments as 'a good omen, it is a good beginning.'