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August kickoff for freedom from past

Islamabad, Feb. 18: India and Pakistan today announced a “basic road map” for peace, lining up a series of meetings over the next six months to discuss all contentious issues with Kashmir and nuclear confidence-building measures topping the agenda.

Foreign ministers of the two countries will meet in August to hold a composite dialogue, President Pervez Musharraf said. A meeting of the foreign secretaries would precede the talks between the ministers, he told a convention of Muslim scholars.

The announcement came shortly before foreign secretaries Riaz Khokhar and Shashank wrapped up three days of talks in Islamabad, the first formal contact since the failed Agra summit in July 2001.

A joint statement issued by the nuclear rivals agreed to approach the composite dialogue with the sincere desire to discuss and arrive at a peaceful settlement of all bilateral issues to the satisfaction of both sides.

“It has been decided that after the elections in India, the composite dialogue at the level of foreign secretaries will be held in May-June, followed by talks between the two foreign ministers in August to review overall progress,” Musharraf said.

The next round of talks between the foreign secretaries is scheduled in Delhi with Shashank confirming that his Pakistani counterpart had accepted his invitation. The Kashmir issue and confidence-building measures are expected to be discussed.

At a separate briefing, Khokhar said the meeting with his Indian counterpart was very fruitful. “We do have before us now a sort of a basic road map for a Pakistan-India peace process to which we have both agreed…. We hope that this road map will eventually lead to settlement of all outstanding disputes... and in the direction of durable peace.”

Musharraf made it clear that the Kashmir dispute remains a fundamental part of the dialogue. “We will see then when to bring in the Kashmiris in the dialogue process for the peaceful resolution of the dispute,” he told the scholars’ meet, adding that any solution “should be acceptable to India, Pakistan and the Kashmiris”.

Radical leaders, including JKLF chief Amanullah Khan, have accused Pakistan of ignoring Kashmiris by agreeing to discuss the issue with India in a January 6 joint declaration. The declaration was made after a landmark meeting between Musharraf and Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee in Islamabad.

Shashank said he had reported the outcome of the meetings to external affairs minister Yashwant Sinha, who was “fully satisfied”. Pakistan foreign minister Khursheed Mehmood Kasuri was likely to visit all Saarc capitals ahead of the Saarc foreign ministers’ meeting, he said. The two sides will have to see whether the planned meeting with Sinha could be held then or separately.

But the foreign secretary sounded a note of caution. “We are entering the process with an element of sincerity in the hope that we will be able to achieve the results which would be to the expectations of the people. But what results will come out, that of course will depend on the actual stage of negotiations.”

 

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