India, Pak spar over talks agenda
India and Pakistan began framing the agenda for their renewed dialogue with some diplomatic push and shove. Indian officials sought to put terrorism on the top of the agenda. Their Pakistani counterparts insisted on a discussion on all “outstanding issues” — a reference to Kashmir and Balochistan, reports HT Correspondent.delhi Updated: Feb 09, 2010 01:27 IST
India and Pakistan began framing the agenda for their renewed dialogue with some diplomatic push and shove. Indian officials sought to put terrorism on the top of the agenda. Their Pakistani counterparts insisted on a discussion on all “outstanding issues” — a reference to Kashmir and Balochistan.
Both sides sought to placate their domestic audiences. India, said Pakistan Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi in Multan on Sunday, “has come to us and sought talks. We never kneeled before them and did not bow to their pressure.” He claimed New Delhi had come under “domestic pressure” to resume dialogue.
Indian officials preferred to stress the caution underlying the dialogue. They note they are working on a “limited mandate” and, “as of now”, there was nothing on the calendar beyond the proposed foreign-secretary level talks. “Terrorism is the issue of most concern to us. So it’s expected to be one of the leading issues for the discussion,” a source said. Pakistan may be keen on reviving the composite dialogue, but that formula “hasn’t done much” in addressing terrorism.
Even as his minister took the rhetorical path, Pakistan’s High Commissioner Shahid Malik was in Islamabad to discuss with his government the two dates, February 18 and 25, that India had proposed for the foreign secretary talks in Delhi.
Stray signs of compromise were already visible.
Indian officials are hopeful that the differences on the modalities of the talks would be worked out in time for a February dateline as India has offered to “talk on all issues of concern.” A source said, “Obviously, Islamabad will play to its domestic audience. As the offer is made by India, that’s expected. We have made it known to them that we are going to talk with an open mind.”
India also accepted that Islamabad had taken “some steps” against those behind the Mumbai 26/11 attacks but was not about to swallow Pakistan’s argument it should be seen as “just” a victim of terrorism.
Qureshi said that while Pakistan has certain “outstanding issues” with India it did not mean that two countries could not move forward. Given the challenges Pakistan was facing, it was in Islamabad’s interest to have good relations with its neighbour.
February talks would help pave the way for more substantive communication at the SAARC summit in Bhutan in April. “Let’s see what happens at the foreign secretary-level talks and we can pick the threads from there for further moves. We are hopeful,” a New Delhi source said.