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Natwar in Pak peace pledge

Islamabad, Oct. 2: Choosing Gandhi Jayanti as the auspicious day of his journey, K. Natwar Singh arrived here this evening to tell the Pakistani leadership that India is committed to peace with its neighbour and take the current normalisation process beyond the composite dialogue.

The foreign minister’s visit comes at a time when there are murmurs of doubt from different quarters in India and Pakistan about the fate of the peace process.

With India’s categorical rejection of Pakistan’s proposal of troops reduction in Kashmir, there has been growing scepticism in Islamabad on whether Delhi is only playing for time or is serious in resolving outstanding issues between the two neighbours.

Singh’s attempt will be to reassure Pakistan not only about India’s commitment to peace but also about Delhi’s seriousness to resolve all issues, including Kashmir.

His delegation has representatives from six other ministries that include home, commerce and industries, tourism, telecommunication, information and broadcasting and the coast guards. Foreign secretary Shyam Saran is among the senior officials in the team.

The visit ' it follows last month’s meeting between Manmohan Singh and Pervez Musharraf in New York that did not live up to expectations ' is being seen as an attempt at “rapprochement” between India and Pakistan.

The external affairs minister will be here for four days and will also visit Karachi after meeting Musharraf and Pakistani foreign minister Khursheed Mehmood Kasuri in Islamabad.

Singh and Kasuri will review the progress made in the composite dialogue, at the end of which they are scheduled to endorse the next set of dates ' between January 2007 and July 2007 ' for the next round of talks, as recommended by the foreign secretaries.

The ministers will also discuss how the joint commission, which has not met for the past 16 years, could be revived.

India agrees with Pakistan that the composite dialogue has made significant progress on the eight issues listed under it, including peace and security and Jammu and Kashmir, and that the dialogue mechanism should be maintained.

But, at the same time, India feels the neighbours should look beyond the current format on other issues that could involve more ministries and departments of the two governments.

The Indian leadership believes that by reviving the joint commission, the two sides will be able to broaden their dialogue and engage many more ministries in the normalisation process.

The attempt is to institutionalise the joint panel mechanism that is to be co-chaired by the two foreign ministers, so that if and when the need arises, Singh and Kasuri could meet at short notice.

Two agreements ' one on prior notification for test-firing ballistic missiles and the other to establish an institutionalised communication mechanism between the Indian Coast Guard and the Maritime Security Agency of Pakistan ' are likely to be signed during the visit.

Since the cabinet committee on security has approved a host of measures on liberalising the visa and consular pacts, Singh and Kasuri are likely to take up these issues.

Some of them are notifying each other when an Indian or Pakistani is arrested in the other country, granting consular access to each other within three months and releasing prisoners who have served their sentences.

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