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India, Pakistan Foreign Secretary-level talks open today

Sandeep Dikshit & Anita Joshua

For Pakistan, the agenda is Kashmir, peace and security; India will raise terrorism, Mumbai attacks

NEW DELHI/ISLAMABAD: The mid-sea “brush” between Indian and Pakistani warships last week has served as a reality check for the Foreign Secretary-level engagement that begins in Islamabad on Thursday.

War of words

The war of words over the “close encounter” in the Gulf of Aden has ensured against a media hype being whipped up over the two-day wrap-up session of the resumed dialogue process. This will be followed by a meeting next month between the Foreign Ministers to take stock of the progress made, if any.

As the Pakistani Foreign Office prepares for the arrival of Foreign Secretary Nirupama Rao on Thursday morning, the official line was that “Pakistan is desirous of a purposeful and result-oriented dialogue process with India for sustainable peace and development in South Asia.”

For Pakistan, the agenda is Jammu and Kashmir, peace and security (including confidence building measures) and promotion of friendly exchanges.

Anticipating India's move to bring its Mumbai terror attack “fixation” back to the table in the wake of the trial of Chicago businessman Tahawwur Rana — accused of helping David Headley in planning the attack — Pakistan is flagging the agreed outcome of the February 6 Foreign Secretary-level talks in Thimphu on the basis of which the dialogue process was resumed.

India's position is that besides discussing issues in their domain, the Foreign Secretaries also review the Ministry-level dialogue such as the ones on internal security or water. Since the Home Secretaries discussed terrorism — with specific reference to the Mumbai terror attack — it is bound to come up for discussion.

Three-point agenda

Though the Pakistan Foreign Office is now publicly insisting on the three-point agenda, Foreign Secretary Salman Bashir said in February that his meeting with Ms. Rao in June would review the “carefully sequenced meetings on issues of interest and concern” that have taken place since March.

Translated, this means Mr. Bashir had, at that time, agreed to review all issues discussed since the February meeting with Ms. Rao and the one taking place this week.

The in-between line Ministry-level meetings — on counter-terrorism, trade and commerce, and Wular Barrage/Tulbul Navigation Project — were officially described by both as relatively successful. But, officials confide that the meetings on Sir Creek and Siachen saw no progress. In fact, the clock was set back on Sir Creek — often billed among the doables.

But the sources were satisfied with the talks on commerce and security. Along with nuclear-related confidence building measures these were the two areas where India was keen to make progress, they said.

Six Indians issue

Ironically, the Indian delegation arrives in Pakistan the very day when a Pakistani warship would bring back crew members of mv Suez, which was in the custody of Somali pirates for 10 months. On board will be six Indians. The question is whether Pakistan will let them return home without going through the arduous process of consular access that has confined five Pakistanis saved by the Indian Navy from Somali pirates to a Mumbai police station for the past three months.

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