FS-level talks begin in Islamabad on a hopeful note

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Islamabad, June 24 (ANI): Foreign Secretary-level talks between India and Pakistan began in Islamabad today at 11.15 a.m. today.

The Pakistan Foreign Secretary, Salman Bashir, welcoming the Indian delegation, said: "We welcome you to Islamabad and, we are happy to have the opportunity of hosting you and look forward to fruitful discussions."

The Indian Foreign Secretary, Nirupama Rao, thanking her host, said: "We look forward to re-engaging with Pakistan and moving the process of talks forward."

She also said that the Indian side would be happy to "engage in a whole range of issues."

The talks are being held in a small conference room in the Pakistan Foreign Office.

Foreign Secretary Nirupama Rao, looking resplendent in a beige Chanderi saree, wearing minimal jewelery, seemed relaxed, as did the rest of the Indian delegation.

They were seen exchanging small talk with the Pakistani side before the talks began. The wood panelled room has a large oil painting of Mohammad Ali Jinnah on one wall.

The Indian side, led by Foreign Secretary Nirupama Rao, includes Y.Sinha, Jt Secretary (PAI - (Pakistan,Afghanistan,Iran), Indian High Commissioner to Pakistan Sharad Sabharwal,India's Deputy High Commissioner to Pakistan Rahul Kulshrehtra, Vishnu Prakash, Jt. Secretary (XP Division and the Government's spokesman),G V Srinivas, Counsellor and A.R.Ramu, Deputy Secretary (PAI).

The Pakistan side led by Foreign Secretary Salman Bashir includes Director General (South Asia) Mr. Afrasiab, Additional Secretary (UN) Munawar Saeed Bhatti,Additional Secretary (AP) Masood Khalid, Pakistan's High Commissioner to India Shahid Malik, Foreign Office Spokesman Abdul Basit, and Director-General of Foreign Secretary's Office, Tehmina Janjua.

The two foreign secretaries will work on a framework based on which India and Pakistan will work towards bridging the trust deficit between the two nations, said official sources.

The Indian side has gone into the talks with a greater degree of optimism and openness.

All issues could be brought to the table, contentious as well as humanitarian, is what the official sources said.

This shows a greater degree of stodginess from the Indian side, but also leaves a crack in the door for the Pakistani side to sqeeze in the issues of Kashmir and Balochistan.

Nirupama Rao is the first senior Indian official to visit Islamabad since the 26/11 attacks. The earlier visit was by former External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee in 2007 when President Zardari had just taken charge.

Home Secretary G.K.Pillai also arrived here yesterday on a special flight.

He attended a reception hosted by the Pakistan Foreign Office spokesman last night.

The social occasion was meant to be an excuse to meet informally and in a manner of speaking, size each other up, before the formal interaction began today.

But the significance of the optics is not lost, that Indian Home Minister P.Chidambaram's visit is what is going to grab eye-balls.

Nobody remembers when an Indian Home Minister visited Pakistan last.

The only home minister that Pakistan has hosted is a 'former home minister', L.K.Advani who came here after he had demitted office.

While Chidambaram's agenda is not to bridge the trust deficit, he is coming here as part of the SAARC misterial-level conference.

But the Pakistan Foreign Office is well aware that Mr. Chidambaram is the man in charge of battling terrorism in India and that he will not mince words when he talks about Pakistan sponsored terrorism.

If Pakistan can have constructive talks with Chidambaram, the Pakistan Interior Ministry and Foreign Office would have crossed a major hurdle towards moving slowly towards peace. By Smita Prakash (ANI)

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