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India rejects US intervention

delhi Updated: Nov 27, 2008 01:48 IST

Amid reports that the next US administration might appoint former President Bill Clinton as a mediator on Kashmir, India on Wednesday night rejected any third party intervention and asserted that the matter would have to be addressed bilaterally with Pakistan.

The assertion by External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee came after his talks with Pakistan Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi during which the two sides agreed on the need to resolve outstanding issues expeditiously and enhance the bilateral ties in trade and other fields.

The two sides also discussed the problem of terrorism, with Pakistan saying that it is a "common threat" and should be fought jointly by the two countries.

Addressing a joint press conference with Qureshi after their 90-minute talks, Mukherjee said the two sides discussed ways to build on the initiatives taken to improve ties, including launching cross-LoC trade and in-principle agreement to open the Wagah-Attari and Khokhrapar-Munnabao borders for commerce.

When referred to reports that the Barack Obama administration could appoint Clinton as a mediator on Kashmir, Mukherjee said "Jammu and Kashmir is essentially a bilateral issue which we have agreed to resolve bilaterally from the Simla agreement to Lahore Declaration".

He said the issue is to be resolved through bilateral talks between the two countries. "Therefore, there is no question of any intervention by any third quarter," he said.

To a question, Qureshi said Kashmir is an "important segment" of the dialogue process between the two countries and pointed out that Foreign Secretaries of the two countries would be discussing it under the fifth round of Composite Dialogue which has got underway.

Gupta said the "very frank, cordial and positive" talks had not focussed on specific persons or terrorist incidents but on ways that the two sides could progress while dealing with sensitive matters like terrorism and drug trafficking.

Both sides agreed Pakistan's Anti-Narcotics Force chief would meet his counterpart in India's Narcotics Control Bureau as early as possible to discuss ways to further cooperation.

An MoU on "drug demand reduction and prevention of illicit trafficking in narcotics drugs/psychotropic substances and precursor chemicals and related matters" was initialled by senior officials of the two sides yesterday.

"Both sides welcomed this development and agreed that the MoU will further promote bilateral cooperation in this field," the joint statement said.

They described the existing cooperation and information-sharing between the Anti-Narcotics Force and Narcotics Control Bureau as positive. They agreed that these agencies would enhance mutual cooperation "in terms of effective and sustained steps to control drugs trafficking".

There was acknowledgement on both sides that drug production in Afghanistan was a matter of concern. "About 40 to 45 per cent of drug seizures in India are in the western part. There is relatively good cooperation between our anti- narcotics forces and we hope to expand on this," Gupta said.

On the issue of prisoners, both sides agreed to exchange by December 31 the names of civil prisoners who had completed their sentences and whose national status has been confirmed to facilitate their release in January next year.

The two sides agreed that verification of nationality status of prisoners would be completed within six weeks of provision of consular access. They agreed to facilitate speedy release of fishermen and boats detained in both countries.

Gupta said India planned to free some 100 Pakistani prisoners who had completed their terms once certain formalities are completed.

Both sides welcomed release of prisoners and fishermen by each other ahead of the talks as a gesture of goodwill.

The two sides will work to reconcile the figures of prisoners in each other's jails, which remains a "grey area", said Gupta. "The idea is to try and release the maximum number of prisoners, especially on humanitarian grounds and those who have completed their sentences," he added.

The issue of Indian national Sarabjit Singh, who is on death row following his conviction for alleged involvement in bomb attacks in Pakistan in 1990, was raised during the parleys though there was no new development, Gupta indicated.

Both sides agreed that the issue of inadvertent border crossers should be viewed from a humanitarian dimension and recommended early finalisation of a draft agreement regarding inadvertent crossings by the expert group on conventional CBMs, which is due to meet soon, the joint statement said.

Noting that a 1974 protocol on visits to religious shrines was due for revision along with lists of religious shrines in both countries, the two sides decided the matter will be discussed under the talks between culture secretaries on promotion of friendly exchanges, likely to take place soon.

It was recommended that a revised protocol and list of shrines should be finalised as early as possible and Pakistan agreed to furnish its comments on the lists before the talks on Friendly Exchanges, the joint statement said.

Gupta said the move to liberalise the visa regime would focus on both categories of visas and modalities such as reporting to police. "We would like to look at the modalities in stages. This is an important area in which we have made progress and we hope for more progress."

The issue of the alleged involvement of army personnel and Hindu radical elements in last year's Samjhauta Express train bombing was not discussed, officials said.

Gupta also called on Interior Ministry chief Rehman Malik and discussed issues of mutual interest. Gupta and his Pakistani counterpart Shah briefed Malik on their talks. On behalf of Home Minister Shivraj Patil, Gupta invited Malik to visit India at an early date.

Malik extended a similar invitation to the Indian Home Minister.