India's announcement that its home minister will travel to Pakistan this month has raised hopes that the South Asian rivals are on course to resume a dialogue suspended after the 2008 Mumbai attacks. Indian Home Minister P. Chidambaram will be the first top level official to cross the border since the assault on India's financial capital by Islamist gunmen which claimed 166 lives. India blamed the attack on the Pakistan-based Lashkar-e-Taiba militant group and broke off a four-year peace dialogue between the nuclear-armed rivals, demanding Islamabad bring the culprits to justice before talks could resume. For the moment, New Delhi is downplaying Chidambaram's trip, stressing that it is not bilateral in nature, as he will be taking part in a meeting of interior ministers from the eight-nation South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC). "Chidambaram will get a chance to have very useful exchanges with his counterparts and other leaders in Pakistan," Indian Foreign Minister S.M. Krishna told reporters when he announced the visit on Wednesday. Top leaders from both countries, including the prime ministers, have met several times in the past year on the sidelines of similar regional conferences. But the fact that Chidambaram is actually going to Pakistan means his visit will carry special resonance and will be closely watched for any sign of a thaw in relations. The home secretary's office refused to be drawn Thursday on the question of any two-way talks during the SAARC meet. "We are not sure at the moment whether he will be meeting any Pakistani leader on the sidelines," a senior official told AFP. "A final schedule will be released next week." But a foreign ministry source who declined to be identified said there was a clear opportunity to kick off a normalisation process. "The fact that he is going is in itself a pointer in the direction that India is exploring the prospects of opening doors for talks," the source said. A full resumption of the high-level "composite" dialogue, under which all aspects of the relationship between the two nations are up for discussion, is still probably some way off. "I think any return to the table would involve talks at the level of foreign secretaries, with a focus on the issue of terrorism," the source said. Some observers saw an easing of India's position when Foreign Minister Krishna said Wednesday that just "a few steps" by Pakistan in pursuing the Mumbai attacks would satisfy India and "certainly make it easier to carry on normal business". Uday Bhaskar, head of New Delhi-based strategic affairs think tank, the National Maritime Foundation, said India was only too aware that a resumption of dialogue was inevitable and that Chidambaram's visit would lay the necessary groundwork. "It's a case of India reviewing its past responses and future options," Bhaskar said. "The fact is that India must engage with Pakistan. Both geography and the nature of Indo-Pak relations don't allow us the luxury to remain unengaged," he added.