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June 12, 1998


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Pak turns down India's talks offer, counters with its own

In a diplomatic stalemate, India and Pakistan made conflicting, confusing statements on probable peace talks later this month.

India, thus, said high-level talks between the two governments will resume on June 22, and that it had extended an invitation to the Pakistan foreign secretary to visit New Delhi on that date.

Late on Friday, however, Pakistan announced its refusal to meet on India's terms, and instead made a counter-offer for talks, in Islamabad, on June 20.

Pakistan's thumbs-down on the Indian offer came shortly after a G-8 communique was issued in London, tightening financial screws on both nations, but hailing the reported moves for bilateral dialogue between India and Pakistan.

India's External Affairs Ministry spokesman K C Singh had announced, on Friday morning, that Pakistan had accepted India's proposal to resume talks at the foreign minister level.

Terming India's offer as 'political gimmickry', Pakistan said it could not agree to the terms offered by India. Pakistan's Foreign Minister Gohar Ayub Khan told the BBC that India's proposed format for talks was a non-starter. Ayub accused Delhi of "trying to pull a fast one".

A statement from the Foreign Office in Islamabad said the kind of talks that India was proposing were "totally unrealistic and reflect India's consistently negative and non-serious approach towards dialogue."

The main point of disagreement, apparently, is Kashmir. India had indicated that it would like to resume talks based on proposals submitted by New Delhi in January. Further, India proposed that Kashmir be made part of the overall agenda, and not taken up separately.

Pakistan has now indicated that it wants talks based only on an accord arrived at by the foreign secretaries of both countries, in June 1997. More importantly, Islamabad has indicated its unwillingness to club Kashmir with other outstanding issues, arguing instead that it wants a separate working session to discuss Kashmir.

Meanwhile, the ministry of external affairs in a separate statement welcomed Pakistan's decision to announce a moratorium on nuclear tests, describing it as ''encouraging''.

About Pakistan's suggestions for a ''no-nuclear test" agreement, measures for avoidance of conflict and promotion of nuclear and conventional restraint and stabilisation measures, the MEA spokesman said these could be discussed under the first agenda item of the proposed foreign secretary-level talks -- namely peace and security including confidence-building measures.

''We have already invited the Pakistani foreign secretary to visit New Delhi on June 22 to resume the adjourned dialogue, where these issues should be addressed constructively," the MEA spokesman said.

Dialogue between the two countries had been stalled at the foreign secretary level in September last year, over differences on setting up a working group to go into the Kashmir issue.

The two countries had identified eight subjects to be taken up in the second round of talks in June last year in Islamabad, and decided to set up working groups to deal with them. It was however specified at the time that the issue of peace and security, and of Jammu and Kashmir, would be dealt with by the foreign secretaries.

The other issues identified were: Siachin, Wullar Barrage, Tulbul navigation project, Sir creek, terrorism and drug trafficking, economic and commercial cooperation and promotion of friendly exchanges in various fields.

Reading out the statement earier in the day, the MEA spokesman said, "We received yesterday a response from Pakistan to our proposals given to them in January this year, regarding the modalities of the official dialogue between the two countries.

"We note that our view that the bilateral dialogue process should proceed ahead for mutual benefit is finding acceptance in Pakistan. We hope they will continue on this path."

He said India was committed to fostering a relationship trust and friendship with Pakistan based on mutual respect and regard for each other's concerns.

This objective, the spokesman added, could only be achieved through a wide-ranging, comprehensive and sustained dialogue process which will build a stable structure of co-operation.

Contending that India was committed to fostering a relationship of trust and friendship with Pakistan based on mutual respect and regard for each other's concerns, the spokesman stressed that this objective could only be achieved through a wide-ranging, comprehensive and sustained dialogue process which would build, as Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee said in Parliament, a stable structure of co-operation and also resolve outstanding issues.

Asked to comment on US President Bill Clinton's reported statement that China should be present at any Indo-Pak talks on Kashmir, the spokesman pointed out that the US president's reported statement had been taken out of context and he would not comment at this juncture.

Asked to comment on UN Secretary General Kofi Annan's claim that he was sending his envoy to India for the ostensible purpose of resolving Indo-Pak disputes including Kashmir, the spokesman said there was no such move. He further emphasised that "our position on the non-acceptability of mediation (on Kashmir) is well known."

Meanwhile, defence ministry officials today emphasised that ongoing international efforts to foist a third-party mediation in Kashmir was futile, since all matters pertaining to the border state fell within the ambit of bilateral Indo-Pak relations.

Referring to the prime minister's special envoy and principal secretary Brajesh Mishra's initiatives to appraise the international community why India conducted the nuclear tests, the officials said on the whole Mishra's mission was satisfactory. They added that similar efforts by the deputy chairman of the Planning Commission, Jaswant Singh, was also satisfactory.

Tara Shankar Sahay, UNI

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