Tue, May 20, 2008 - Page 5 News List

Indian foreign secretary meets Pakistani counterpart


India’s foreign secretary was to travel to Pakistan yesterday to kickstart the stagnant peace process, marking the government’s first contact with the new civilian leadership, officials said.

Shivshankar Menon is to meet his Pakistani counterpart Salman Bashir on today for a review of the four rounds of talks between the two nuclear-armed rivals that have been held since January 2004, diplomats said.

The talks will focus on “terrorism, levels of infiltration” by Islamic rebels into India “and ways to build on the peace process” after no serious contacts of more than a year, an Indian foreign ministry official said.

“It will also prepare the ground for talks between the two foreign ministers on Wednesday,” said the official, who asked not to be named.

This week’s talks will be the first high-level contact between the two sides since February last year, when Indian Foreign Minister Pranab Mukherjee traveled to Pakistan.

“At the talks, we will see what exactly the new government has in mind,” said the Indian foreign ministry official.

While ties have improved, the rivals have made no significant progress on their key dispute — the status of the divided Himalayan region of Kashmir, which both hold in part and claim in full.

“The dialogue process has contributed so meaningfully to the improvement of relations over the last four years. India is ready to carry the process forward,” reports quoted Menon as saying ahead of his departure.

Kashmir has been the trigger for two of their three wars since 1947, and the Indian part of the region has been rocked by an insurgency since 1989. New Delhi accuses Islamabad of supporting the rebellion, a charge Pakistan denies.

“The real issue is to find out who is in charge, assess the situation in Pakistan, to see whether the leadership is ready to move forward or not,” Singapore-based security analyst C. Raja Mohan said by phone.

Once New Delhi is able to gauge the positions of Pakistan’s new government “then there are many things that can be done to carry the peace process forward,” he said.

Kanwal Sibal, India’s former top diplomat, agreed that the “political situation in Pakistan was fluid” after nine ministers from former prime minister Nawaz Sharif’s Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz pulled out of the country’s six-week-old coalition government earlier this month.

“Things were a little more positive from our point of view when the visit was announced. But now, with the political developments in Pakistan, the rift within coalition, there is no clarity on the internal situation,” he said, expressing doubts on whether “talking to a government at odds with itself would be productive.”

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