The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Delhi warms up for talks with Pak

New Delhi, June 25: Aware that some forward movement on Kashmir is necessary to sustain the peace process, India will head into talks with Pakistan armed with confidence-building measures, civilian as well as military.

The two-day foreign secretary-level talks that begin here on Sunday are the first in six years at this level — the last such meeting was held in Islamabad within months of the May 1998 nuclear tests.

But subsequent tension, despite attempts to break the ice in Lahore in 1999 and Agra two years later, ensured that such meetings were not held since.

Details of most confidence-building measures have not been released but it appears they might include early resumption of talks for the Srinagar-Muzaffarabad bus service as well as upgrading and expanding the hotline between the directors-general of military operations to other levels.

Foreign secretary Shashank will be assisted by foreign secretary-designate Shyam Saran and high commissioner to Pakistan, Shiv Shankar Menon. Other senior foreign ministry officials will also be assisting Shashank, whose Pakistani counterpart Riaz Khokhar arrives here tomorrow.

The two sides will discuss peace and security and the confidence-building measures on Sunday. Shashank and Khokhar will get the chance to review the overall progress in talks and may take a final decision on restoring full staff strength at their respective high commissions as well as re-opening the Mumbai and Karachi consulates.

A decision may also be taken on the Baglihar dam project, talks on which ended here inconclusively earlier this week.

But all eyes will be trained on Monday when Kashmir is taken up for discussion. If talks progress smoothly, a joint statement can be expected. The other confidence-building steps could include release of civilian prisoners and fishermen and exchanging details about each other’s military personnel.

The Pakistani delegation is also scheduled to call on Indian leaders, including for-eign minister K. Natwar Sin- gh and possibly Prime Min- ister Manmohan Singh.

Differing perceptions on Kashmir and a contrasting approach on how to resolve the issue has resulted in failure to break the deadlock. This time around, sources say, the attempt will be to approach the talks not with “stated position(s)” but new ideas. However, South Block would not say what these new ideas are.

Foreign secretary-level talks were part of the composite dialogue the two sides agreed on in 1998 to discuss outstanding bilateral differences. There were six other issues on the table: the Siachen conflict, the Tulbul barrage, Sir Creek, trade and economic cooperation, terrorism and promotion of friendly exchanges in different areas. These will be taken up later by different secretaries and senior officials.

India feels some significant developments in Pakistan have resulted in a change in its approach to talks and improving ties with Delhi. Attacks by Islamic fundamentalists on President Pervez Musharraf and other senior military officials appear to have made Islamabad realise there could be distinctions in the fight against terrorism.

Infiltration across the Line of Control has decreased but India is aware that Pakistan has done little to dismantle the terrorist infrastructure. No step has been taken to break the communication system between officials and terror groups and the launchpads that still exist from which Pakistan can send in armed infiltrators if need be.

India would want to know at the talks what Pakistan intends to do to make Delhi believe it is sincere about its assurance that it will not allow its soil to be used by terrorists. Musharraf provided then Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee this assurance in January this year.

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