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June 9, 1999
Indo-Pak talks unlikely to achieve much
George Iype in New Delhi
Even as India and Pakistan get ready for the crucial foreign ministerial dialogue on Saturday, both sides do not expect any dramatic results to end the conflict in Kargil, though they hope it will help de-escalate the tension on the Line of Control.
Officials in the external affairs ministry preparing for the talks between Foreign Minister Jaswant Singh and his Pakistani counterpart, Sartaj Aziz, said there is just one item on the agenda: the Kargil crisis.
Aziz has already said he is optimistic that the talks with India will defuse tension and prevent an escalation of the conflict. The Pakistani foreign minister is expected to present his "explanations" for the crisis.
While New Delhi is uncertain about the nature of the Pakistani "explanations", former diplomats said the very fact that India and Pakistan will be sitting at the negotiating table is a good sign.
"I do not expect any great tangible results from the dialogue. But bilateral talks are the only solution to create a détente at this juncture," former foreign secretary J N Dixit told Rediff On The NeT.
Therefore, he said, the Singh-Aziz dialogue would be crucial to improve the strained relations between India and Pakistan.
Foreign affairs observers like Dixit expect both sides to do some "tough talking", though neither will emerge the winner in this preliminary round.
The main agenda of discussion between Singh and Aziz will certainly be the escalation of the conflict in Kargil, with both sides certain to justify the military action and their points of view on the LoC.
Aziz is likely to "disown" India's accusations that Pakistan has been sending army regulars into India.
He, instead, will insist that the LoC, the official border between the countries, should come up for review because of the crisis.
He will also call for third-party intervention and mediation by the United Nations.
But external affairs ministry officials said Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee had set the tone for the dialogue during his address to the nation two days ago, when he denounced the Pakistani infiltration and said the only option before Pakistan is to "undo the aggression".
Officials said Singh would put forward to Aziz a number of observations and conditions on the Kargil crisis and the fresh debate on the LoC.
First, he will tell Aziz that the entire Kashmir dispute and the eight outstanding issues that India and Pakistan have been trying to thrash out cannot be discussed in the current dialogue.
He will also call for the complete withdrawal of Pakistani soldiers and insurgents from Kargil as a pre-condition for any forward movement of the dialogue.
Secondly, Singh will articulate India's views on the LoC. Submitting facts and figures, he will argue that the LoC was clearly marked and defined by then Indian Army chief Sam Maneckshaw and his Pakistani counterpart Tikka Khan in 1972. Therefore, calling for a review of the LoC after 27 years is unacceptable.
"We will be rigid on Kargil and the LoC. We are not ready to move an inch here or there because the whole crisis has been created by Pakistan," an official preparing for the talks told Rediff On The NeT.
He said India agreed to the dialogue not for any breakthrough on the Kashmir issue. "Our sole aim is to force Pakistan to own up responsibility for escalating tension on the border," he said.
But whether India would succeed in humbling Pakistan on the Kargil issue remains to be seen.
What is now certain is that the Kargil crisis has thrown up a number of fresh problems between the neighbours.
"I do not want to predict what are the chances of an early settlement of these problems. But India-Pakistan relations have certainly dipped to their nadir," K Natwar Singh, former foreign secretary and now chairman of the Congress party's foreign affairs cell, told Rediff On The NeT.
But, he added, continuing the dialogue is the only solution to de-escalate the conflict.
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