India cautious, hopes to unlock dialogue with Pakistan

Friday, January 28, 2011

NEW DELHI - Ahead of Foreign Secretary Nirupama Raos talks with her Pakistani counterpart Salman Bashir in Thimphu next month, India Friday struck a cautious note, saying it was an exploratory mission where the two sides hope to unlock the dialogue process stalled after 26/11 attacks.

Indian officials tried to downplay expectations from the upcoming meeting in Thimphu on the margins of the SAARC Standing Committee meeting.

“Dont expect anything dramatic…it is an attempt to unlock the process once again,” a senior Indian official said. “It’s basically an exploratory mission,” he added.

Officials said the meeting will provide a “little more clarity” on how to go about solving outstanding issues, and pointed out that the two foreign secretaries have been talking on phone for the past few weeks.

Rao and Bashir are expected to meet on the sidelines of the Standing Committee meeting of the eight-nation South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) in the Bhutanese capital Feb 6-7.

The talks could set the stage for a meeting between External Affairs Minister S.M. Krishna and his Pakistani counterpart Shah Mahmood Qureshi in New Delhi later this year. The visit could take place as early as March.

Officials said Qureshi’s visit will be on the agenda. “We hope that dates can be finalised.”

Qureshi is not visiting Thimphu for the SAARC foreign ministers meeting Feb 8. Krishna will represent India at the meet.

Officials said the issue of terrorism was certainly important, but New Delhi was ready to discuss all issues. India, officials said, wants to focus on humanitarian measures like the meeting of the judicial committee on prisoners and cross-border movement of people and issues like Sir Creek, trade and consular matters over which the officials of the two countries could hold talks immediately.

The meeting between the foreign secretaries will be the first official talks to revive the dialogue process since the meeting between the foreign ministers of India and Pakistan broke down in bitter mutual recriminations in Islamabad July 15 last year.

Asked if India had noticed any change in Pakistans attitude since the last round of talks between foreign ministers in July last year, they said there was no alternative to talking to Islamabad and impress upon it the need to take effective and proper steps to deal with terrorism.

We have to talk to each other…we have to remain engaged. We have to see how we can begin the process.”

When asked whether the Pakistan Army was on board on the dialogue with India, the officials made it clear that India deals with the civilian government which is in power in Islamabad. As far as we are concerned, the Pakistan Army is part of the government in Pakistan…we deal with the civilian government.”

They noted Pakistani Army chief Gen. Pervez Kayani’s recent remarks that the Pakistani Army was “India-centric”, and said the army was part of the government and “we have no reason to doubt that there will be inputs from defence and army” on Indo-Pak relations.

Asked what position India would take if Pakistan were to seek details of Swami Aseemanands confession in the Samjhauta Express blasts case, the officials said investigations were still on and New Delhi would share the details when it was in a position to do so.

Filed under: Diplomacy

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