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|June 18, 1998||
Indo-Pak PMs meet in Colombo useful, says Gohar Ayub
Pakistan Foreign Minister Gohar Ayub Khan expressed a hope, in Islamabad on Wednesday, that the prime ministers of India and Pakistan would hold a formal meeting during the forthcoming South Asian Association for Regional Co-operation summit, the 10th in the series, in Colombo in July.
Khan, the most hawkish voice in the Nawaz Sharief cabinet, emphasised the need for both countries to resume bliateral talks in a bid to defuse what he called an increasingly volatile atmosphere in the wake of the recent nuclear tests.
Such a meeting between Atal Bihari Vajpayee and Nawaz Sharief, Khan said, could help push forward talks at the foreign secretary level, which came to an abrupt halt last September.
However, even as he spoke in favour of talks at the highest level between both countries, Khan threw a couple of monkey wrenches in the diplomatic machinery, when he simultaneously called for international engagement in the process of dialogue between India and Pakistan. India, it will be recalled, has insisted that all outstanding issues should be resolved through bilateral dialogue, and that there is no scope for third-party involvement.
Arguing in favour of third-party involvement, Khan pointed out that between March 1997 and January 1998, the two nations have held three rounds of foreign secretary-level talks, one foreign minister-level meeting and four prime minister-level meetings. "None of them have produced any positive results," the Pakistan foreign minister said, adding that further bilateral talks were tantamount to "just going through an exercise with a knowledge that there will be hardly any progress."
What is needed, Khan said, is for a third party to channelise our efforts, to give direction to our talks and ensure that something constructive comes of these talks.
The Pak foreign minister also gave his own spin to the recent imbroglio wherein both sides suggested, then rejected talks proposals, when he said that Pakistan, last Friday, had proposed the resumption of foreign secretary-level talks on the basis of an agreement reached between the two sides on June 23, 1997 at Islamabad. As per that accord, eight issues including Jammu and Kashmir were to be taken up for discussion.
India, Khan said, had failed to respond to that proposal, and instead announced that talks would he held on June 22 on the basis of the draft proposals the Indian government had made this January. Khan, further, said that the January proposals, made during a meeting of Sharief with then Indian prime minister Inder Kumar Gujral, were unacceptable to Pakistan.
Gujral had suggested, at the time, that each of the eight items on the agreed-upon agenda be headed by a secretary at ministerial level, and that eight groups thus discuss the eight items simultaneously. "That is not practical," Khan said. "It is an Indian ploy to create more issues, to prolong the sessions, and to not come to a solution."
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