26/11 ghosts cast shadow on India-Pakistan talks

July 2nd, 2012 - 6:45 pm ICT by IANS  

P. Chidambaram New Delhi, July 2 (IANS) In the face of damning revelations about the alleged involvement of Pakistani state actors in the Mumbai attack and the controversy over death row prisoner Sarabjit Singh, foreign secretaries of the two countries will have to struggle hard in their two-day talks beginning Wednesday to sustain the momentum in the revived dialogue process.

Indian Foreign Secretary Ranjan Mathai and his Pakistani counterpart Jalil Abbas Jilani will discuss issues like peace and security, including confidence-building measures, Jammu and Kashmir, and the promotion of friendly exchanges between the neighbours. Jilani arrives here Tuesday for the talks.

The agenda of the foreign-secretary talks had been fixed well in advance, but the stunning disclosures made by Abu Jindal, an Indian key 26/11 plotter with links to Pakistani militants, and India upping the pressure on Pakistan to admit the role of state actors in 26/11, the atmospherics ahead of the talks have changed.

The focus is back on terror and quicker justice for 26/11 attacks, said informed sources familiar with the agenda for the forthcoming talks.

Home Minister P. Chidambaram has upped the ante on the terror issue. On Friday, he pressed Pakistan to admit facts relating to Abu Jindal Hamza having set up a “control room” in Karachi and having trained the 10 terrorists who attacked Mumbai in November 2008.

Chidambaram also escalated pressure on Islamabad by saying that Jindal’s revelations point to the involvement of Pakistani state actors in the carnage that left 166 dead. Islamabad has been predictably in denial and is seen to be resorting to obfuscation by claiming that Jindal’s disclosures only revealed that there was Indian support for 26/11.

Against this backdrop of mutual recriminations, the two sides are treading cautiously, with very little prospect of any breakthrough on substantive movement on key issues that bedevil ties between the two prickly neighbours.

On the positive side, the Indian side has stressed that despite disappointment over the slow pace of 26/11 justice, New Delhi sees no alternative but to continue the process of engagement. This explains why External Affairs Minister S.M. Krishna has made it clear that he will go to Islamabad for foreign-minister talks.

The two foreign secretaries are expected to finalise the date for Krishna’s visit to Islamabad to review the progress in the dialogue process with his Pakistani counterpart Hina Rabbani Khar.

Krishna was scheduled to visit Pakistan on July 17-18, but the trip was deferred because of the June 19 presidential poll. As the Indian parliament is scheduled to hold its monsoon session in July-August, the two countries are now exploring the possibility of Krishna travelling to Islamabad in late August or early September.

Pakistan’s perceived flip-flop on the release of Sarabjit Singh and confusion about the sequence of events leading to a midnight clarification by Islamabad that it was not Sarabjit, but Surjeet Singh, another prisoner in a Pakistani jail, who was being released, has caused much disappointment in New Delhi.

This avoidable episode has put the focus on the plight of Indian and Pakistani prisoners languishing in each other’s country. At the talks, India is expected to seek clarity on the issue and renew the pitch for the release of Sarabjit Singh and other prisoners on humanitarian grounds.

Pakistan, according to informed diplomatic sources, is likely to push for the resolution of what it calls “doable issues” like the disputes over the Siachen glacier and Sir Creek marshlands. The recent talks over these two issues did not result in any breakthrough, but Islamabad has not given up.

The two diplomats are also likely to discuss dates for the signing of a pact on a liberalized visa regime, which could not be signed in May as Islamabad felt that it should be signed between home ministers of the two countries.

Going by the bitter slanging match between the two home ministers over Abu Jindal’s disclosures, it’s unlikely that Chidambaram will visit Islamabad any time soon. India may be pushing for the signing of the visa pact during Krishna’s visit to Islamabad.

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