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India, Pak for Ajmer Sharif rail link

The foreign secretaries reviewed the progress made during the last two rounds of the composite dialogue.

india Updated: Jan 17, 2006 16:11 IST

India and Pakistan are discussing a proposal to extend the Munabao-Khokhrapar rail link to Ajmer Sharif, an important Sufi shrine that is visited by lots of Pakistanis, as they began their two-day talks on Tuesday on confidence-building and resolving the Kashmir issue.

The Indian side headed by Foreign Secretary Shyam Saran and the Pakistani side led by his counterpart Riaz Mohammad Khan reviewed the progress made during the last two rounds of the composite dialogue at Hyderabad House and discussed various confidence-building measures on Tuesday morning.

This is the beginning of the third round of composite dialogue between the two countries that deals with Jammu and Kashmir and peace and security.

The Indian side raised the issue of cross-border terror and asked the Pakistan side to honour its commitment not to allow the territory controlled by it to be used for anti-India terror, sources said.

The two sides will discuss the proposal to extend the Munabao-Khokhrapar rail to facilitate the flow of pilgrims from across the border during the talks.

The cross-border train, christened the Thar Express, will link Munabao in India to Khokhrapar in Pakistan and is expected to start Feb 1. If this proposal is accepted, the train will link Pakistan to Ajmeri Sharif - the dargah (mausoleum) of Hazrat Khwaja Moinuddin Hasan Chisti, a sufi saint.

The shrine attracts Muslim pilgrims from all over the world, especially from across the border. Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf visited Ajmeri Sharif when he came to India last year.

The two sides also discussed confidence-building measures like starting of the Poonch-Rawalkot trans-border bus service, the truck service along the Srinagar-Muzaffarabad route, operating meeting points on the LoC in Kashmir and allowing pilgrims across the ceasefire line. The two sides are expected to finalize dates for technical-level talks to discuss each of these steps.

A joint statement is likely to be issued at the end of the talks Wednesday.

The 10-member Pakistani delegation headed by Khan arrived here Monday afternoon for the talks. The Pakistani team comprises senior foreign ministry officials, including additional secretary (Asia Pacific) Tufail Tauheed, additional secretary (UN) Tariq Osman Hyder, director-general (South Asia) Syed Ibne Abbas, director-general (UN-OIC) and Foreign Office spokesperson Tasnim Aslam and director (India) Zaheer Janjua.

The Indian team, headed by Saran, includes Dilip Sinha, joint secretary (PIA), Shivshankar Menon, India's envoy to Pakistan, Jeeva Sagar, director (Pakistan), Navtej Sarna, external affairs ministry spokesperson, and other officials.

The two foreign secretaries will finalise the schedule of meetings of the other six subjects under the composite dialogue - the military standoff on the Siachen glacier, the Wullar barrage/Tulbul navigation project, the Sir Creek border demarcation dispute, terrorism and drug trafficking, economic and commercial cooperation and the promotion of exchanges in various fields.

The opening of the consulates in Karachi and Mumbai, which has been postponed due to problems with owners of the property, is also likely to be discussed.

Khan will call on Minister of State for External Affairs E Ahamed later in the day.

First Published: Jan 17, 2006 11:12 IST