Thimpu (Bhutan), Feb.6 (ANI): Foreign Secretaries of India and Pakistan -- Nirupama Rao and Salman Bashir-have begun their talks alongwith officials of both sides on the sidelines of a South Asian Association of Regional Cooperation's (SAARC) Foreign Secretaries and Council of Ministers meetings being held here.
The officials are expected to discuss a wide range of issues of bilateral importance to both countries, most notably what steps can be taken to facilitate a possible resumption of the stalled composite dialogue.
The composite dialogue process that was activated on the sidelines of the 12th SAARC Summit in January 2004, was suspended immediately after the November 26, 2008 terror strike by Pakistan-based militants on Mumbai.
On Sunday morning, Foreign Secretary Nirupama Rao said that India will go into talks with Pakistan on the sidelines of the event with an open mind.
Speaking to media ahead of the meeting, Rao said: "We are resuming our contact after an interregnum of some time. We have a number of issues to discuss, and we have always said that dialogue between India and Pakistan is necessary, is a must in fact."
"If we are to satisfactorily resolve the outstanding issues between our two countries, we have a number of outstanding issues. So, we are going into this with an open mind and constructive attitude, and I believe, that my Pakistani counterpart (Salman Bashir) will also have number of ideas to discuss. So, this is going to be an exploratory discussion and, we hope that through this process, we can find a way forward," she added.
Commenting on the ongoing investigations into the 2007 Samjautha Train blast, Rao said: "We have already said investigations are on in Samjautha blasts. It was an act of terrorism, there is no doubt about it, and, when we are ready to share evidence, we have never shied away from the fact that if there is evidence to share with Pakistan, we will share it."
In his comments, Pakistan Foreign Secretary Salman Bashir said: I am here and looking forward to the meeting. And, we are here for the preparation of the engagement between the two foreign ministers. I would not like to make any specific comment. Why do you want to pick up one issue? There are plenty of issues. My expectations are that we should be working towards continued engagement."
However, on the eve of the talks (i.e. Saturday), Pakistan sought to link the Samjhauta Express blast case to the Mumbai attack trial, which was promptly rejected by India.
Pakistan said India "needs to bridge the gap between what it says and what it does" juxtaposing New Delhi"s slow handling of the 2007 Samjhauta blast case with its insistence on a quick trial for the Mumbai attack accused.
India said the two cases were not comparable, and there were clear leads in the Mumbai incident unlike in the cross-border train attack case.
India said that it is going for the "exploratory" talks with "cautious optimism" and "reasonable expectations" and expressed its willingness to discuss all outstanding issues with Pakistan, but by a step-by-step approach.
Both Rao and Bashir are expected to discuss the problem of terrorism that is plaguing the relationship, besides some confidence-building initiatives concerning fishermen, people-to-people contacts and trade and commerce.
This will be the first meeting between the foreign secretaries since the July 15, 2010 Foreign Ministers' meeting, which collapsed. The Foreign Secretaries last met at the end of June 2010.
Meanwhile, Indian and Pakistani experts have said the focus of the foreign secretary-level talks will be on ways to resume the stalled dialogue.
"Thimphu is essentially about discussing the resumption of dialogue process. The two Foreign Secretaries need to work out an agreed format for the dialogue process, which can then be resumed in a meaningful manner paving the way for the forthcoming Foreign Minister-level talks in Delhi and eventually a summit in the near future," the Islamabad-based Jinnah Institute quoted former Pakistan Ambassador to India Aziz A Khan, as saying.
Another Pakistan envoy Humayun Khan urged both countries to downscale their immediate objectives in an attempt to resume the stalled dialogue process.
"At present, the vital thing is to restore the dialogue. India should not make Mumbai a brick wall that must first be removed. Pakistan should not insist that the dialogue must be "result oriented." Once they start talking to each other again, these problems will have to be addressed," he said.
Former Indian Ambassador to Pakistan Gopalaswami Parthasarathy said the Thimpu meet could be regarded as a success "if rhetoric is avoided and an agreement is reached on resuming dialogue at a political level. Experience has shown that long joint press conferences after meetings end in disaster and should be avoided."
"The only way forward on this score is to ensure that non-state actors with or without state support cease to destabilize the relationship. Moreover, we have to ensure that we celebrate our successes together, promote economic cooperation that facilitates each other's progress and stop gloating about the discomfiture or dilemmas of the other side," he added. (ANI)