India, Pakistan to hold exploratory talks in Thimphu

Saturday, February 5, 2011

NEW DELHI - The foreign secretaries of India and Pakistan are set to meet Sunday in the Bhutanese capital in what is seen as an “exploratory mission” by New Delhi to revive the dialogue process that is stalled over two years after the Mumbai terrorist attack.

Foreign Secretary Nirupama Rao Saturday flew to Thimphu for the meeting of the eight-nation South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC). She is expected to hold bilateral talks with her Pakistani counterpart Salman Bashir Sunday.

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 in March.

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

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 recriminations in Islamabad July 15 last year.

According to reliable sources, the Thimphu meeting will outline a tentative agenda of talks on less contentious issues like trade and Sir Creek to keep a limited dialogue going till Pakistan delivers on 26/11 justice.

The two sides may agree to a dialogue on terror-related issues between the home secretaries. The two sides may also agree to separate meetings of commerce secretaries, culture secretaries water resources secretaries.

Ahead of the talks, Rao put justice for the Mumbai terror attack victims on top of the agenda. In the run-up to the foreign secretary-level talks, she met Home Minister Chidambaram Friday.

“This is an ongoing effort. This is an ongoing exercise. We hope that both the governments come to satisfactory conclusion about what is required so that the trial could be satisfactorily concluded because justice has to be done,” she said while alluding to the trial of seven Pakistani suspects in Pakistan for their alleged involvement in the Nov 26, 2008 Mumbai carnage.

“We are going to meet after a certain interregnum, a few months after the last meeting. So, we will see how we can pick up the thread once again,” Rao said. “I am sure we will exchange ideas. Let’s hope that we would be able to pick up convergence of views.”

New Delhi has scaled down expectations ahead the Thimphu meeting, with official sources saying the talks will be primarily exploratory in nature.

Terror is going to be a very important issue, New Delhi feels, but has signalled it was willing to discuss all issues of mutual concern.

Pakistan has said it is going to Thimphu with “an open mind” and hoped that India would also come with a “constructive attitude”.

Pakistan’s Foreign Office spokesman Abdul Basit said Friday that Islamabad was ready for talks with India but an agenda should first be chalked out by the foreign secretaries.

“We hope India also will come to the meeting with a constructive attitude so that a comprehensive, sustained and result-oriented dialogue process can be resumed,” Basit said.

He added that it was necessary for better relations that all the outstanding issues between the two countries, including the Jammu and Kashmir dispute, are resolved through dialogue.

Pakistan is likely to raise the issue of the Samjhauta Express blast probe in which Hindu terror groups may have been involved, according to the latest investigation.

At least 68 people, mostly Pakistanis, were killed in bomb blasts on board the Samjhauta Express in Panipat, Haryana, Feb 18, 2007. The train links India and Pakistan.

Filed under: Diplomacy

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