India, Pakistan agree on cross-Kashmir linkages, set positive tone (Evening Lead)

July 26th, 2011 - 8:11 pm ICT by IANS  

New Delhi, July 26 (IANS) India and Pakistan Tuesday set a positive tone to their revived dialogue as their foreign secretaries firmed up cross-Kashmir confidence-building measures that will be unveiled by the foreign ministers of the two countries Wednesday.

Pakistan’s Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar touched down in her special flight Tuesday on a rainy afternoon.

The 34-year-old Khar, Pakistan’s first woman foreign minister and the youngest, was warmly received by Sharat Sabharwal, India’s high commissioner to Pakistan, and Y.K. Sinha, joint secretary in charge of Pakistan in the foreign office.

They were joined by Pakistan’s High Commissioner to India Shahid Malik and senior officials of the mission.

“This is my first trip to India and New Delhi as the foreign minister of Pakistan. I bring the good wishes of the people of Pakistan and the government of Pakistan,” Khar told reporters at the airport.

“I hope that these two countries have learnt lessons from history, but are not burdened by them,” she said in a carefully worded message that sought to reinforce the goodwill the exchanges so far had generated.

“I hope we can move forward as good, friendly neighbours who have stake in each other’s future. Both the countries understand their responsibilities to the region and within the region,” she said.

Before Khar flew to New Delhi, she had told reporters that Pakistan was looking to “result-oriented dialogue.”

“We should be positive in our engagement, and we are,” she said.

Khar arrived here soon after the foreign secretaries of India and Pakistan Tuesday ended their delegation-level preparatory talks, lasting over two hours, to firm up the agenda for the ministers’ meeting, after which the CBMs will be unveiled.

Rao and Bashir had “very cordial and positive discussions today in New Delhi,” Vishnu Prakash, the spokesperson of the external affairs ministry, told reporters.

“They reviewed the progress in talks between different ministries and organisations, of the two countries in the preceding months,” he said.

Rao and Bashir reviewed the progress in bilateral relations since they last met in Islamabad a month ago and finalised a slew of CBMs designed to expand travel and trade across the divided halves of Kashmir, officials said.

The CBMs could include an increase in the frequency of cross-Kashmir bus links between Srinagar and Muzaffarabad and Poonch and Rawalakot, an increase in the number of trading days across the Line of Control (LoC) from two to four, and opening of more trading points.

The two sides may also announce the release on humanitarian grounds of prisoners in each other’s custody.

A government source said the two sides also discussed measures to liberalise the visa regime that seeks to boost people-to-people contacts which both sides have decided on as a focus area in their relationship.

The two sides also discussed possibilities of upgrading their dialogue in some areas to the ministerial level, said the source.

During the talks, the Indian side pushed for speedy justice for victims of the 26/11 Mumbai carnage, raised the issue of Pakistani spy agency ISI’s link with Kashmiri separatism and emphasised the need for “an atmosphere free from terror” to continue meaningful talks, the source added.

India also underlined the need to expand the scope of dialogue by including new people-centric areas of cooperation like agriculture, health and telecommunications.

The Pakistani side raised the Kashmir “dispute” and pressed for a swifter resolution of the decades-old issue that has triggered two of the four wars fought by the nuclear-armed neighbours.

But despite differences over contentious points, the atmospherics were positive, signalling the clear political will on the part of New Delhi and Islamabad to sustain the peace process they revived in February after an over two-year hiatus following the 26/11 terror spree that was perpetrated and masterminded by Pakistani terrorists and elements from across the border.

“We had a very good meeting in Islamabad last month and this in a sense has set the trend for the discussions today,” Rao said while welcoming Bashir.

“I think we have every reason to be satisfied with our joint endeavours for the cause of peace and stability and for good relations between our two countries,” said Bashir, adding that he looked forward to a “productive meeting between the two ministers”.

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