India, Pakistan talk peace in ‘new democratic environment’ (Night Lead)

May 20th, 2008 - 9:36 pm ICT by admin  

A file-photo of Pervez Musharraf
By Manish Chand and Muhammad Najeeb
Islamabad, May 20 (IANS) Days after bomb blasts in Jaipur killed over 60 people and firing across the Kashmir border, India Tuesday asked Pakistan to jointly fight terrorism “amidst a new democratic environment” in Islamabad even as foreign secretaries of the two countries resumed peace talks in a “friendly and constructive atmosphere”. On the agenda were terrorism, Jammu and Kashmir and peace and security — among the eight issues the two sides have been discussing since the peace process started in January 2004.

More than four years later, in the first major bilateral engagement since a civilian government took office here in March, the process was taken forward with India’s Shivshankar Menon and Pakistan’s Salman Bashir leading the review of the fourth round of composite dialogue that took place last year.

Indian External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee also landed in the Pakistan capital for talks with his counterpart Shah Mehmood Qureshi Wednesday and said his visit comes “amidst a new democratic environment of great promise”.

He stressed that the two countries must work together to combat terrorism and that the future of the talks would depend on an “atmosphere free from terrorism, violence or the threat to it”.

Mukherjee, who will meet President Pervez Musharraf and Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gillani Wednesday, conferred with the leaders of the two parties in the ruling coalition, former prime minister Nawaz Sharif of the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) and Asif Ali Zardari of the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP).

But even as he set the positive tone for engagement, Mukherjee reminded interlocutors about India’s concerns on cross-border terrorism - an issue that has shadowed ties between the two countries for years and which has acquired an added importance after the bombings in Jaipur last week.

On Tuesday, however, the foreign secretaries prepared the ground for the talks between their ministers.

The two countries said in a joint statement that their foreign secretaries had reviewed the fourth round of the composite dialogue that took place last year and decided to carry forward the four-year-old peace process.

“The foreign secretaries expressed satisfaction at the progress made so far and exchanged views on carrying forward the composite dialogue,” the press release said at the end of delegation-level talks at the foreign office.

The foreign secretaries took an overview of the progress in discussions on eight issues included in the composite dialogue: peace and security, including confidence building measures (CBMs); Jammu and Kashmir; Siachen; Sir Creek; Wullar barrage; terrorism and drug trafficking; economic and commercial cooperation; and promotion of friendly exchanges.

India is believed to have conveyed concerns over cross-border terrorism, the recent attempts by militants to sneak into Jammu and Kashmir from Pakistan, and firing along the Line of Control (LoC) that divides the region between the two countries. One Indian soldier was killed Monday in the alleged Pakistan firing.

Indian officials underlined the need for “concrete action” by Pakistan to end what they said was cross-border terrorism and infiltration. India also urged Pakistan to honour its pledge not to allow anti-India terrorist groups to operate on its soil.

The Pakistani side argued that their country was as much a victim of terrorism as India was and called for more cooperation in this area, said an Indian official who did not wish to be named.

India also pressed for the launch of more cross-LoC bus services and an early start of a truck service to connect Srinagar and Muzaffarabad - the two main cities in the two parts of Kashmir.

The argument is that such confidence building measures will increase the flow of trade and travel between the two halves of Kashmir, one controlled by India and the other by Pakistan.

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 sources.

The launch of the Jammu-Sialkot and Kargil-Skardu bus services are expected to be announced at the end of the review of the composite dialogue Wednesday.

The two sides also explored the possibility of increasing the frequency of the Srinagar-Muzaffarabad and the Poonch-Rawalkot bus services by making them a weekly affair.

Raising the issue of Kashmir, Pakistan stressed the need to move from conflict management to conflict resolution, an Indian source said.

New Delhi conveyed its readiness to address all issues with Pakistan, including Jammu and Kashmir, and said that more cross-border CBMs will make the “border irrelevant” and bridge the trust deficit between the two countries.

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.

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