A noted American columnist has urged India and Pakistan to cooperate with each other and help the United States stabilize the "tinderbox of Afghanistan." "India won't be secure unless Pakistan is, and vice versa. And neither country can be comfortable so long as Afghanistan remains a battleground," columnist David Ignatius wrote in the Washington Post on Sunday as he welcomed New Delhi's offer of talks with Islamabad. "Each nation fears (often with good reason) that the other's intelligence service is using Afghanistan as a staging ground," he said in his regular column: A new thaw between India and Pakistan. "This Indo-Pak version of the 'Great Game' is poisonous, and the two need to begin sharing intelligence about common threats, rather than fighting spy wars," Ignatius wrote. "The Indo-Pak problem is partly one of political asymmetry. India has a strong democracy, in which the military is powerful but subordinate to political leadership. Pakistan is the opposite: The military is the most robust segment of the Pakistani elite. Military command changes there are gossiped about almost as if they were elections". Noting that Admiral Mike Mullen likes to say: The key to Kabul lies in Islamabad, meaning that success in Afghanistan will be impossible without Pakistan's help, Ignatius said: "But the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff is said to have an additional rubric: Given the political complications in that part of the world, the key to Islamabad lies in the Indian capital of New Delhi. "So it was welcome news indeed Thursday when a Pakistani government spokesman announced that India had proposed high-level talks with Pakistan -- opening the way for a dialogue the region desperately needs. "How might India play the constructive role that Mullen and other top U.S. officials would like to see? The answer is easy to describe, but agonizingly difficult to put in practice: India could reassure Pakistan that as it works with the United States to contain the Taliban insurgency on its western frontier, the Indian military would ease pressure on the eastern border. "This Indo-Pak detente has been happening on the ground in a limited way in recent months, with both nations reducing their forces along the flash-point border in Kashmir... "The India-Pakistan standoff is like one of those game-theory puzzles where both nations would be better off if they could overcome suspicions and cooperate -- in this case, by helping the United States to stabilize the tinderbox of Afghanistan. If Indian leaders meet this challenge, they could open a new era in South Asia; if not, they may watch Pakistan and Afghanistan sink deeper into chaos, and pay the price later... "Both sides have designated emissaries for back-channel talks. The Pakistani envoy is said to be Riaz Mohammad Khan, the country's former foreign secretary. His Indian counterpart reportedly is S.K. Lambah, a former ambassador to Islamabad. An earlier episode of these secret talks made real progress on Kashmir and other issues in 2007, as documented by journalist Steve Coll in the New Yorker. But the momentum was shattered by the Mumbai attack, and there appears to have been little movement since. "Both sides tell me they want to get the ball rolling again, and they point to quiet steps to reduce tension. Pakistan has moved an estimated 100,000 troops west for its campaigns against the Taliban in Swat and South Waziristan; India, for its part, says it has removed about 30,000 troops from the border. "While these are helpful signs, they aren't game-changers. What the Indians want is evidence that Pakistan is serious about dismantling terrorist groups such as the Lashkar-i-Taiba commandos who attacked Mumbai. The Pakistanis, for their part, need assurance that if they squeeze Muslim militants, such as the Taliban and its allies in Afghanistan, India won't exploit the situation and try to gain advantage there."