India, Pakistan to discuss confidence building steps

May 20th, 2008 - 1:30 pm ICT by admin  

A file-photo of Nawaz Sharif
By Muhammad Najeeb
Islamabad, May 20 (IANS) Some crucial confidence building measures (CBMs) are on the cards as Pakistan and India revive the stalled peace process Tuesday, with a new government here seeking friendly relations with its biggest neighbour, an official privy to the developments said. Indian Foreign Secretary Shivshankar Menon arrived here Monday night. He would meet his Pakistani counterpart Salman Bashir to review the progress made during the fourth round held last year.

Indian External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee will reach Islamabad Tuesday evening and will pay a courtesy call on former prime minister Nawaz Sharif, whose Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) is an ally of the ruling Pakistan People’s Party (PPP).

He is also scheduled to meet PPP chairman Asif Ali Zardari and Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani.

The meeting of foreign secretaries will prepare the ground for a review by the two foreign ministers Wednesday.

“The review meetings will help the two sides to assess the progress made in the fourth round of composite dialogue process … and deliberate how to address outstanding issues in a more meaningful way,” Foreign Office spokesman Mohammad Sadiq said.

Both sides are ready with some new CBMs including the release of fishermen arrested on the sea, relaxations in visa policy and exchange of students at the university level, said the official.

All the coalition partners in the Pakistan government have said that they look forward to friendly relations with India.

“There are no two views on relationship with India… We want to live in peace with neighbours,” Zardari said in a television interview after the formation of the PPP-led government.

Sharif, who takes credit for initiating a new era of relationship with India in 1999 when then prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee drove to Pakistan on bus, has said that his party can go the extra mile in building good relations with New Delhi.

There has been no debate in parliament yet on the future of the composite dialogue and the possible new proposals on Jammu and Kashmir, whose ownership dispute is the biggest hurdle to India-Pakistan friendship.

But members of the ruling coalition have made it clear that Pakistan should have friendly relations with India.

The foreign office spokesman said last week: “Pakistan desires to have friendly and good neighbourly relations with India, and a stable and prosperous South Asian region. We are committed to the peace process and seek a peaceful resolution of all issues including Jammu and Kashmir.”

The India-Pakistan talks will cover all eight components of the composite dialogue: peace and security, including CBMs; Jammu and Kashmir; Siachen; Sir Creek; Wullar barrage; terrorism and drug trafficking; economic and commercial cooperation; and promotion of friendly exchanges.

“The review meetings will help the two sides assess the progress made in the fourth round of the eight segments of the composite dialogue process and deliberate how to address the outstanding issues in a more meaningful way,” the foreign office spokesman said.

An official said there was a lot of optimism in Pakistan and the “vibes coming from India are equally positive”.

But former foreign secretary Shahmshad Ahmed warned that there can no major changes in bilateral relations overnight.

He, however, said that the good thing was that both countries were continuing to talk to each other. This, he said, will definitely lead to positive developments.

But unlike during the previous Pakistan-India talks, the media seems to be downplaying the event this time. None of the major newspaper are giving it much importance.

An official said that the overall trend during the fourth round of talks had been positive.

Efforts are expected to be made to liberalise what is considered to be one of the most oppressive visa regimes in the world.

President Pervez Musharraf has welcomed the resumption of the composite dialogue process and expressed the hope that the talks would lead to “some positive outcome” on the outstanding issues.

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