India, Pak foreign secretaries hold 'useful' talks,agree to carry it forward

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Thimpu (Bhutan), Feb.6 (ANI): Foreign Secretaries of India and Pakistan-Nirupama Rao and Salman Bashir-met here on Sunday night for about 90-minutes after a gap of nearly six months to find ways to resume a bilateral dialogue that broke down badly between July 15-17, 2010.

The spokesman for the Indian Ministry of External Affairs, Vishnu Prakash, described the deliberations held on the sidelines of the 38th South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) Standing Committee (of Secretaries) meeting as useful and frank.

"The foreign secretaries had useful and frank discussions on the steps required to be taken in this (dialogue) context. They agreed on the need for constructive dialogue between India and Pakistan to resolve all outstanding issues. They affirmed the need to carry forward the dialogue process," said the spokesman while releasing a one-page statement to the media here.

Government sources said there was good progress made at the talks on charting the way forward.

India, they said, has pressed for a step-by-step approach in dealing with less contentious issues first, but has rejected Pakistan's insistence on a timeline.

Prakash said that the two foreign secretaries would now report back to their respective governments about their deliberations in Thimpu.

The two delegations consisted of six officials each, and were led by the two foreign secretaries.

The officials are reported to have discussed 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.

It maybe recalled that the composite dialogue process was activated on the sidelines of the 12th SAARC Summit in January 2004, and 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 on Sunday morning: 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."

On the eve of the talks (i.e. Saturday), however,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.

Earlier this week, Indian and Pakistani experts said the focus of the foreign secretary-level talks should be on ways to resume the stalled dialogue.

"Thimpu 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)

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