India asks Pakistan for 26/11 trial closure, agrees on cross-Kashmir CBMs (Roundup)

June 24th, 2011 - 11:26 pm ICT by IANS  

Manmohan Singh Islamabad, June 24 (IANS) Raising alleged links of the ISI with the Mumbai terror attack, India Friday pressed Pakistan for a “satisfactory closure” of the 26/11 trial and reminded that complex issues like Kashmir can’t be resolved under “the shadow of the gun”. The two countries also agreed to expand trade and travel across the Line of Control to sustain the resumed dialogue.

In a new spirit of pragmatism, Indian Foreign Secretary Nirupama Rao and her Pakistani counterpart Salman Bashir discussed a range of issues relating to peace and security, Jammu and Kashmir and the promotion of friendly exchanges.

The talks over the last two days were held in a “cordial and frank” manner with India and Pakistan issuing a joint statement and the two diplomats, who were scheduled to address the media separately, eventually appearing at a joint press conference.

Signalling a change in atmospherics, they vowed to carry forward the dialogue process in “a constructive and purposeful manner”.

The talks that ended Friday set the stage for the visit of Pakistan’s Minister of State for External Affairs Hina Rabbani Khar, who is widely speculated to be the next foreign minister, to New Delhi next month.

Rao called on Khar separately and conveyed the greetings of India’s External Affairs Minister S.M. Krishna, saying “the government of India looked forward to her visit”.

In a refreshing language that sought to break away from the sterile pattern of mutual accusations, the two neighbours agreed that “people were at the heart of this relationship” and decided to take a slew of steps, including a liberalised visa regime, to bring them together.

The two sides discussed various nuclear and conventional confidence-building measures CBMs and agreed to convene separate expert-level groups to strengthen the existing arrangements and consider additional measures later this year.

Despite their differences and well-known positions on the Kashmir issue, the two sides decided to reconvene a working group to flesh out additional confidence building measures (CBMs) across the ceasefire line dividing the two halves of Kashmir. The group will meet before the visit of Pakistan’s foreign minister to New Delhi next month.

These CBMs could include the launch of the Kargil-Skardu bus link, increasing the frequency of cross-Kashmir bus link between Srinagar and Muzaffarabad and an increase in the number of trading days across the LoC, informed sources said.

“We must help the people of Jammu and Kashmir to connect with each other; to travel, to trade,” Rao said.

Although Pakistan sought to pitch the Kashmir issue in the limelight on the eve of the talks Thursday by reiterating that it is a core issue, the two sides showed greater maturity in the discussions.

In some pointed straight talk, Rao reminded her hosts that there was no alternative to “the resolution of outstanding issues through peaceful, serious and sustained, bilateral dialogue”.

“The shadow of the gun and the violence it has unleashed has caused untold sufferings on our people in these years past. This needs to end,” she said, adding that the ideology of military conflict should have no place in the paradigm of our relationship of the 21st century.

Describing justice for the Mumbai terror attack victims, which were masterminded and executed by Pakistani terrorists, as a “critical issue”, Rao said at a joint press conference that India wanted “a satisfactory closure” of the 26/11 trial and stressed that it was imperative for the “normalisation of relations”.

Rao also took up the issue of the alleged links of Pakistan’s spy agency Inter Services Intelligence (ISI) to the Mumbai terror attacks and pointed to the disclosures made by David Coleman Headley, Pakistani-American Lashkar e-Taiba (LeT) operative, linking the ISI to 26/11.

Bashir, who had famously described the evidence presented by India linking elements in Pakistan to 26/11 as “fiction” when he came to New Delhi last year, said that while he understood India’s concerns over terror, the two countries should focus on combating this menace jointly.

“This issue of terrorism requires objectivity and we hope and expect it to be addressed in a collaborative approach,” he said.

Rao, however, made it clear that the resumed dialogue process can continue only in “an atmosphere free from terror and violence”.

Pakistan expressed satisfaction with the progress in the probe by India into 2007 Samjhautha blasts that killed over 40 Pakistanis. “There is every reason to be satisfied with the quality of discussions which were very productive and constructive,” said Bashir.

“The Foreign Secretaries noted that both countries recognise that terrorism poses a continuing threat to peace and security and they reiterated the firm and undiluted commitment of the two countries to fight and eliminate this scourge in all its forms and manifestations,” a joint statement said.

“They agreed on the need to strengthen cooperation on counter-terrorism,” said the statement.

The two estranged neighbours resumed their dialogue in February this year that was frozen for over two years since the Nov 26, 2008 Mumbai terror attacks.

This was the first high-level engagement between the two sides since Prime Minister Manmohan Singh hosted his counterpart Gilani at the World Cup semifinal in Mohali March 30.

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