The first half of this year is going to see a lot of activity in the Indo-Pak dialogue process with the arrival of Pakistan foreign minister Khurshid Kasuri in February for a meeting of the Joint Commission followed by the first formal session in March of the recently constituted Joint Anti Terror Mechanism.
A list of issues on which the two sides agreed to take the dialogue forward or set specific dates for talks was read out by external affairs minister Pranab Mukherjee at a press conference he addressed with Kasuri on Saturday night.
Earlier, they had a one-on-one meeting followed by delegation level talks. Responding to questions, both leaders reposed faith in the mechanism to combat terror and showcased it as evidence of their sincerity to tackle the menace.
“If we were not sincere, we wouldn’t have set a timeframe,” argued Kasuri. For his part, Pranab, who described his first visit to Pakistan as being at a home away from home, underscored the need to turn the mechanism as an effective instrument to combat terrorism, the biggest menace in the post-cold war era.
The Indian minister began his day with a 70-minute call on President Pervez Musharraf who responded promptly to the sentiments, conveyed to him by Mukherjee, of the families of Indian soldiers taken as PoWs in the 1965 and 1971 wars. “I am a soldier myself. I understand,” the Pakistan President said.
Consequently, the two sides decided to set up a Committee on Prisoners comprising retired judges of the superior judiciary to visit jails on either side to ensure humane treatment of prisoners and expeditious release of those who have done their prison terms.
A slew of agreements that are near or close to finalization will be concluded during Kasuri's Delhi visit next month: an accord on reducing risk from accidents relating to nuclear weapons; speedy return of inadvertent line crossers and prevention of incidents at sea.
On Siachen, Kasuri, without using the Indian terminology of authentication of troops in the glacier region, stuck a seemingly positive note. He said, "If the intention was to find where the troops are, ways and means could be found to address New Delhi's concerns."
Kasuri referred to a set of ideas presented by Pakistan on Siachen at the November 2006 FS-level talks while reasserting the matter could be resolved if both sides showed political will. But the Indian side indicated through Foreign Secretary Shiv Shankar Menon that both sides still had some way to go, as reflected in the final word that "officials will meet at an early date to address Siachen."
Likewise, officials have been directed to expedite work on Sir Creek by undertaking a joint survey of the area on January 15. But one issue on which the two sides broke the logjam was on the movement of diplomats in either country: Pakistan getting free access to Gurgaon and Noida and India to Taxila and the Sikh pilgrimage point of Hasanabdal besides Murree and Rawalpindi.
"Procedures for this will be worked out," said Mukherjee. He also disclosed that both countries have agreed to complete in February the work on liberalization of the visa regime.