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Lunch warm, hot plate ahead

New Delhi, June 21: The “warm and productive” meeting between foreign minister Natwar Singh and his Pakistani counterpart Khursheed Mehmood Kasuri in China today may have raised hopes of an early end to India-Pakistan hostilities, but diplomats said the real test will come up this weekend.

On June 27, foreign secretary Shashank will begin two days of talks with his Pakistani counterpart Riaz Khokhar in Delhi to discuss peace and security and Kashmir as part of the “composite dialogue” between the neighbours.

Singh and Kasuri have spoken to each other several times in the past few weeks, but this afternoon’s working lunch in the eastern Chinese coastal city of Qingdao was their first face-to-face interaction.

The meeting, on the sidelines of the Asian Cooperation Dialogue, was also the first direct political-level contact between India and Pakistan since the Congress-led United Progress Alliance government came to power in Delhi last month.

The 100-minute luncheon — at which officials from both sides were present — was followed by a 25-minute one-to-one, sources said.

Keeping up the pace of bilateral interactions, a team of experts from Pakistan arrived here today for discussions on the Baglihar dam project.

Pakistan feels India, by constructing the dam, was violating the Indus Water Treaty between the two sides and had threatened to get the World Bank involved. To avoid third-party involvement, India has invited Pakistan for talks at the level of the water resources secretary to settle the dispute.

At the Singh-Kasuri meeting, which came in the wake of the successful interaction between Indian and Pakistani experts on nuclear confidence-building measures that ended in Delhi yesterday, both resolved to improve bilateral ties and settle all outstanding differences through negotiations.

Describing the meeting as “warm and productive”, foreign ministry spokesman Navtej Sarna said the working lunch, hosted by the Indian foreign minister, allowed the two to review the progress in all aspects of bilateral relations, including Jammu and Kashmir.

Both chemistry and gastronomy were in evidence.

Singh told reporters “the chemistry was pretty good”, while Kasuri said he enjoyed Chinese food. It is “healthy and tasty”, he added.

“We discussed all the issues that are necessary for us to discuss. We had a very positive frame of mind towards all issues,” the Pakistani leader told reporters after the luncheon.

He also told Pakistan TV that Congress chief Sonia Gandhi will soon visit Pakistan in response to President Pervez Musharraf’s invitation soon after the Congress-led coalition took power. “He (Singh) told me that Mrs Gandhi has accepted President Musharraf’s invitation to visit Pakistan,” Kasuri said.

Kasuri told PTI in China that he felt encouraged by the remarks made by the new government in Delhi.

He said his Indian counterpart had assured him that the central coalition was committed to take the peace process with Pakistan forward “at a faster rate”.

However, officials felt the real proof of progress will come when the foreign secretaries meet.

Pakistani officials said there were expectations in Islamabad of some forward movement on the Kashmir issue at the June 27-28 talks.

“We know an overnight solution cannot be expected but we want to see some steps that will assure people in Pakistan as well as in Kashmir that serious attempts were being made towards the resolution of the decade-old dispute,” a senior official said.

Singh also held talks with his Chinese counterpart Li Zhaoxing. Beijing has vowed to do its “utmost” to further Sino-India relations in every aspect.

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