India, Pakistan to launch trans-Kashmir trade(Lead)

September 25th, 2008 - 8:28 am ICT by IANS  

Manmohan SinghNew York, Sept 25 (IANS) In a major confidence-building measure aimed at easing the recent strain in ties, India and Pakistan Wednesday decided to launch trade between divided Kashmir from Oct 21 and agreed to hold a special meeting next month to address New Delhi’s concerns about the bombing of its embassy in Kabul. The two sides decided to launch trans-border trade on the Srinagar-Muzaffarabad and Poonch-Rawalakot roads connecting the divided parts of Jammu and Kashmir across the Line of Control from Oct 21. This is the first major confidence-building measure since a civilian dispensation took charge in Islamabad nearly six months ago.

Stressing the importance of economic cooperation and people-to-people contacts, the two countries agreed to open the Wagah-Attari road link and Khokrapar-Munabao rail route to all items of trade agreed earlier by the two countries. Officials of both sides will meet soon to discuss the modalities for opening of the Skardu-Kargil route as well.

Responding to India’s concerns on cross-border terror, Zardari reassured Manmohan Singh that Pakistan stands by its commitments of Jan 6, 2004 not to allow Pakistani territory to be used for terrorist operations against India, a joint statement said at the end of talks between the two leaders.

“A special joint meeting of the joint anti-terror mechanism will be held in October to address mutual concerns, including the bombing of the Indian mission in Kabul,” the statement said.

“This is a strong statement on terror. We will move in tandem on all issues, including terrorism,” Foreign Secretary Shivshankar Menon told reporters after the one-on-one talks between the two leaders for nearly 45 minutes without aides.

The meeting was held in Hotel Millennium Plaza, a few blocks away from the UN headquarters and was characterized by warmth and personal gestures. Zardari hugged Manmohan Singh twice and spoke admiringly of him. “You are the leader of modern India,” Zardari said, setting a positive note for the engagement between the two countries.

Manmohan Singh, on his part, congratulated Zardari, widower of the slain former prime minister Benazir Bhutto, on his election and “the victory of democracy in Pakistan” and expressed the hope that this would pave the way for “a profound transformation of the bilateral relationship” - remarks that underlined New Delhi’s keenness to build equations with the new civilian dispensation in Pakistan.

From India’s point of view, the meeting was “satisfactory” as the joint statement accommodated its concerns on terrorism. In 2005, Pakistan refused to accept a pointed reference to the January 2004 commitment in the joint statement after the meeting between Manmohan Singh and then president Pervez Musharraf.

“We are quite clear that an atmosphere free of violence and terrorism is necessary for dialogue to move forward. We will work towards the solution of all issues that divide us, including Jammu and Kashmir,” Menon underlined.

The meeting between Manmohan Singh and Zardari, the first after the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) leader became president early this month, broke the nearly three-month-old stalemate after India accused Pakistan’s spy agency ISI of orchestrating the July 7 bombing of the Indian embassy in Kabul.

They discussed an entire range of bilateral issues, including the resolution of the Kashmir dispute and agreed to work for “an early and full normalization of relations between India and Pakistan.”

Underlining that “violence, hostility and terrorism must be visibly and verifiably prevented,” the two leaders vowed to defeat the “forces that have tried to derail the peace process”.

The two leaders took a slew of positive steps focusing on “deliverables and concrete achievements” that included scheduling meetings of the fifth round of composite dialogue launched in July this year. In the light of recent ceasefire violations and the spurt in infiltration, they also agreed to hold meetings of Director General of Military Operations (DGMOs) and sector commanders to stabilize the ceasefire.

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