Kashmir to top agenda for talks with India: Pakistan

May 20th, 2008 - 11:48 am ICT by admin  

A file-photo of Pervez Musharraf
By Manish Chand
Islamabad, May 20 (IANS) Pakistan has put the Kashmir issue at the top of its agenda for talks with India even as it seeks “meaningful discussions” for better relations through more cross-border travel and trade links, top officials said here. Front-page reports in virtually all the leading dailies have, however, underlined a “positive and optimistic mood” on the eve of the talks and stressed on Pakistan’s desire to seek better relations with India that holds the key to regional stability and prosperity.

Foreign secretaries of the two countries will hold talks here later Tuesday, the foreign ministers Wednesday.

“India would be asked to engage in meaningful dialogue with Pakistan on the core dispute as it was vital for durable peace in the region,” a Pakistani official was quoted as saying in The Nation and other leading dailies.

The decision to put Kashmir at the top of the agenda was taken at a meeting between Pakistan Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi and President Pervez Musharraf when Qureshi went to see him at the presidency Monday.

The Kashmir focus of the talks was endorsed by former foreign secretaries and top diplomats who Qureshi consulted extensively ahead of the talks between the two countries.

“It was agreed that the emphasis would be on Kashmir for the Pakistani side,” said an official privy to the meeting between Musharraf and Qureshi.

The decision was taken to set the agenda for the meeting of foreign secretaries of the two countries Tuesday followed by a meeting between the foreign ministers the next day to review the fourth round of composite dialogue between the two South Asian neighbours.

This will be the first formal engagement between the two countries since a civilian government was installed here after the Feb 18 elections and marks the resumption of the dialogue process after a long lull due to political uncertainty in Pakistan.

While Kashmir will top the agenda, the two sides will discuss other issues like exchange of prisoners, visa policy and bilateral trade, said The Daily Mail in a front-page report.

“There was a lot of optimism on the Pakistani side and vibes coming from India are equally positive,” a diplomat said, according to the Dawn. The newspaper also took note of Musharraf’s positive attitude towards the peace process with India, indicating that the current engagement has the backing of the powerful military establishment in the country.

The Daily Mail quoted Musharraf as saying that Pakistan must refrain from confrontation with India as it wants strong and stable relations with India.

India’s proposals for new confidence-building measures and the recent terror blasts in the Indian tourist town of Jaipur will also figure in the discussions, said the Daily Mail while noting approvingly India’s restraint in not pointing fingers at Pakistan for the recent blasts.

But media reports also struck a note of realism, saying there was little hope of breakthrough on any major issues, including Kashmir and proposal for a visa-free regime.

In an op-ed piece entitled Foreign Policy Changes, Iqbal Akhund stressed on the new note of pragmatism in Pakistan’s engagement with India even as it expressed disappointment with India’s cold response and foot-dragging on the issue.

Alluding to Musharraf’s four-point proposal for a lasting solution of the Kashmir issue that included a joint consultative mechanism for the two halves of Kashmir, Akhund wrote: “But India has reacted very coolly when it has reacted at all, to all of this. The fact is that today India is under no pressure, political and military or moral to move from its position on Kashmir.

“As for Pakistan, it is difficult to see what Pakistan would gain from ratifying a dressed-up status quo.”

Indian Foreign Secretary Shivshankar Menon will meet his Pakistani counterpart Salman Bashir to review the fourth round of composite dialogue that ended late last year and discuss Jammu and Kashmir and peace and security among other issues.

External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee will hold talks with Qureshi Wednesday to review the fourth round of dialogue and discuss other issues like cross-border terror and intensification of economic ties.

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