Pranab to meet Musharraf - and Pakistan’s new rulers (Lead)

May 20th, 2008 - 2:34 pm ICT by admin  

A file-photo of Pervez Musharraf
By Manish Chand and Muhammad Najeeb
Islamabad, May 20 (IANS) Indian External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee will meet President Pervez Musharraf and Pakistan’s new civilian leadership ahead of talks with his Pakistani counterpart here Wednesday. Some crucial confidence building measures (CBMs) are on the cards as Pakistan and India revive the stalled peace process Tuesday, with the new government here intent on cementing friendly relations with its biggest neighbour, an official privy to the developments said.

Indian Foreign Secretary Shivshankar Menon arrived here Monday night. He will hold talks with his Pakistani counterpart Salman Bashir Tuesday to review the progress made during the earlier round of talks held last year.

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 Peoples Party (PPP).

He is also scheduled to meet PPP’s Asif Ali Zardari, the real power behind the government, and Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gillani. Mukherjee will separately call on Musharraf.

The meeting with Zardari will be significant as the PPP leads the ruling coalition and his views on the peace process will give India a “more accurate sense” of the future course of relations, said an Indian official here.

Mukherjee will also meet Asfandyar Wali Khan, president of the Awami National Party (AWP), the third pillar of the ruling coalition. Khan is the grandson of the legendary Khan Abdul Gaffar Khan. He may also meet rightwing leader Maulana Fazlur Rahman.

Some Indian officials have suggested that Mukherjee is likely to convey New Delhi’s concerns over cross-border terrorism and press for concrete action by Islamabad to curb terrorist groups in its territory.

At the same time, both sides are clear that terrorism will not be allowed to overshadow the talks. This will be the first high-level contact between the two countries since a civilian government took charge in Pakistan after the Feb 18 elections.

The 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 spokesperson 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 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 spokesperson 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 spokesperson said.

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

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

A Pakistani daily took note of the “familiarisation trip” by the Indian foreign minister.

“Mukherjee will try to know who is the real decision-maker in Islamabad now for the peace process with India, whether it is President Musharraf, the army or the new government headed by Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gillani,” The Nation quoted a Pakistani source as saying.

An official said 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 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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