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No threat to dialogue process: Khokar

By B. Muralidhar Reddy

ISLAMABAD, MAY 28. The Pakistan Foreign Secretary, Riaz Kokhar, said today that there was no threat to the composite dialogue timetable finalised during the Vajpayee Government and that Islamabad was looking forward to hearing from New Delhi on the dates and venue for the Foreign Secretary-level talks.

His remarks came on the sidelines of a United Nations function in the wake of reports in a section of the local media, attributed to Mr. Khokhar, that the future of talks with India was uncertain.

"I do not think I have ever said that. I am not only hopeful, we are quite clear that both sides will have to take a very positive attitude, which has been taken. Our leaders are very clear, their leaders are very clear. They have talked and the commitment for the dialogue is there," he said. Pakistan was giving enough time to the new Indian Government to settle down before the dialogue process resumed.

Asked whether Pakistan had any apprehensions about the appointment of J.N. Dixit as the National Security Adviser, Mr. Kokhar said: "I am not apprehensive about anything. Mr. Dixit or Natwar Singh, these are people we know very well. We have known them for decades. So there is no reason for any apprehension."

Asked where the next round of talks would be held, he said: "It is up to them (India) to decide on the dates as well as the venue. If they want talks to take place in Islamabad, we would warmly welcome it. If they want us to come to Delhi, we will be delighted to go."

At their meeting on February 18, the Foreign Secretaries of both countries agreed that they would meet in May/June in New Delhi to discuss Kashmir and security-related confidence building measures.

"Hope we hear from them soon. And as soon as we hear from them we will go. So where is the uncertainty?" Mr. Kokhar said. "We are clear in our objective that we want durable peace in South Asia and that we would like to work towards it, which means we have to address fundamental issues between India and Pakistan."

In his briefing to the Foreign Relations Committee of the Senate, Mr. Kokhar has been quoted as saying that while Pakistan was hopeful about the progress of the peace process with India, it was unsure about where the new Indian Government would like to pick up the threads in the planned dialogue with Pakistan. He described the Pakistan President, Pervez Musharraf's recent telephone conversations with the Prime Minister, Manmohan Singh, and the Congress president, Sonia Gandhi, as "positive and upbeat."

He told the committee that the Foreign Secretary-level talks would be a continuation of the process initiated by Mr. Vajpayee and Gen. Musharraf. "But this might also be a new beginning." He said the new Indian Government had referred only to the 1972 Shimla Agreement as a framework of talks and made no reference to either the 1999 Lahore Declaration, the 2001 Agra summit or last January's Islamabad agreement.

"So we will see from where they would like to pick up the threads — whether from Shimla, Lahore, Agra or Islamabad," he said. Pakistan would keep a "positive attitude" in pursuing the eight-point "composite dialogue," which includes talks to settle the Kashmir dispute.

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