The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Pak deals foreign secretary card

Jan. 15: Pakistan has insisted that next month’s composite dialogue with India should be at the level of foreign secretaries as talks between lower-ranked officials would send a “negative signal” and cast doubts on the seriousness of the process.

Foreign ministry officials said in Delhi that Islamabad’s insistence on foreign secretary-level talks could be an attempt to focus on Kashmir and kick off the dialogue with security-related issues.

In an interview to PTI in Islamabad last night, Pakistan foreign minister Khursheed Mehmood Kasuri said a “lot of people” preferred the talks to be at the political level, meaning that of the foreign ministers.

“But a good compromise would be the foreign secretaries level,” he added, although Delhi had suggested that joint secretaries should kick off the dialogue.

Kasuri, who hailed the January 5 meeting between Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee and President Pervez Musharraf for its “brutal frankness” that set the stage for the dialogue process, said talks at the level of joint secretaries would “really send a negative signal”.

“There are people who jocularly suggest that it (the talks) should begin at the section officer level. Somehow we are cheapening the whole thing. We are de-prioritising — giving an impression that this was not important enough.”

Of the eight issues covered by the composite dialogue — last held between the two sides in 1998 — the foreign secretaries deal with two — Kashmir and matters related to security. The rest, which include issues like Sir Creek and Siachen, are either dealt by the secretaries or joint secretaries of the ministries concerned.

Sources, however, said though Delhi was yet to decide on the level of the talks, it could compromise by agreeing to discuss all eight issues, with the foreign secretaries discussing Kashmir and security matters and joint secretaries and other officials the rest.

In Rawalpindi, Musharraf kept up the peace momentum, telling top military officers at a conference that his government would continue efforts to root out extremism and all kinds of terrorism from Pakistani soil.

This was the first meeting of top commanders after the recent Saarc summit and Musharraf’s meeting with Vajpayee.


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