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Foreign Secretaries of India, Pakistan to meet on July 14

Siddharth Varadarajan

India would like to receive a detailed account of the steps taken to prosecute those involved in the Mumbai attacks


India now wants evidence of Pakistan’s professed commitment to stop terrorists from staging cross-border strikes

Pakistan may persist in its questioning of India on the progress of investigations into the Samjhauta Express blast


New Delhi: With the two sides failing to agree on a common date or venue, the much-vaunted ‘preparatory’ meeting on terrorism between the Foreign Secretaries of India and Pakistan will now take place during the NAM summit later this month, only hours before the proposed interaction between Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and his Pakistani counterpart that it was meant to precede.

Senior officials told The Hindu that given the bulging datebooks of Foreign Secretary Shiv Shankar Menon and Salman Bashir of Pakistan, the two sides are now zeroing in on a meeting in Sharm-el-Shaikh late on July 14, the very day Dr. Singh arrives in the Egyptian resort town from Paris for the concluding sessions of the nonaligned summit, which ends July 16.

At their meeting in Yekaterinburg last month, Dr. Singh and Pakistan President Asif Ali Zardari had agreed to instruct their Foreign Secretaries to prepare the ground for a second one-on-one in Egypt during the NAM conclave. Since then, Pakistan clarified that Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani would be attending the summit, not Mr. Zardari, a decision which Pakistani diplomats say predates the Yekaterinburg sitting and is unrelated to the perception in Islamabad of Dr. Singh having snubbed Mr. Zardari by making some tough remarks in the presence of the media.

Though both sides intend to honour their commitment to meet again at the top level, the tight scheduling leaves little margin for the Foreign Secretaries to differ in their assessment of the extent to which Pakistan has taken action to prevent its soil from being used to stage terrorist acts against India.

A meeting in which Mr. Menon and Mr. Bashir identify no common ground would set the stage for a frosty encounter between their principals the next day, there being no time for another iteration at the intermediate level. That is why officials in both New Delhi and Islamabad are working to prepare the ground for the two Foreign Secretaries to conclude that some progress has been made on the terrorism front.

Having scaled back its initial demands for the dismantling of terrorist infrastructure as a precondition for the resumption of dialogue, India now wants evidence of Pakistan’s professed commitment to stop terrorists from staging cross-border strikes.

Since India has its own assessment of what Pakistan has done so far and will essentially decide whether or not it wants to resume the peace process based on that assessment, the purpose behind the impending meeting is not just to receive a classified briefing about the steps being taken against the Lashkar-e-Taiba or the Jaish-e-Mohammed.

Rather, it is to get Islamabad to recognise that New Delhi is serious about benchmarking the progress made against anti-India terror groups and linking that to the pace and scope of future dialogue.

Thus, India would like to receive from Pakistan a detailed account of all the steps its investigative agencies have taken so far to identify and prosecute those involved in the Mumbai conspiracy case. Indian officials say they have heard about some of these steps “verbally” or have seen reports in the press but would like to see things put down on paper.

The Hindu has learned that the Pakistani side is considering the merits of such an approach and that a document of some sort could be prepared in time for the Sharm-el-Shaikh meeting of the Foreign Secretaries.

Indian officials say the Prime Minister is serious about meeting Pakistan “more than half the way” but that Islamabad needs to realise he cannot move forward unless they provide details of the action they have taken so far against the Mumbai conspirators.

Well-placed sources also said Dr. Singh did not deliberately intend to begin his meeting with Mr. Zardari in Yekaterinburg in the presence of the media, although they acknowledged that the incident had played into the hands of those in Pakistan who sought to portray the civilian government there as being “soft” on India for seeking the resumption of dialogue “at any cost.”

But if the Indian side is going to Sharm-el-Shaikh in the hope of receiving signs of Pakistani cooperation, they may also need to prepare themselves for questions their interlocutors might ask. If India is so keen for Pakistan to act quickly against the LeT men linked to Mumbai, why did it hand over voluminous documents in Marathi on May 20 knowing full well these would not be admissible in a Pakistani court? And why did it take the Indian system 20 days to hand over an English translation — and that too of only around two dozen pages of the original set of 800-odd pages — when the same could have been done within hours?

The Pakistani side is also likely to persist in its questioning of India on the progress of investigations into the Samjhauta Express train bombing of 2007 in which dozens of Pakistani nationals were killed. Though there is absolutely no evidence linking Samjhauta to Mumbai, the possibility of that blast being the handiwork of a Hindutva terrorist network has given Islamabad a handle to raise the issue.

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