Home > News > Indo-Pak Peace Talk > Report

Indo-Pak talks: Curtain-raiser

Ramananda Sengupta in New Delhi | June 19, 2004 08:15 IST

India and Pakistan started their two-day talks on nuclear confidence-building at Hyderabad House in New Delhi today.

The talks, initially scheduled for last month, were postponed at New Delhi's request to give the new United Progressive Alliance government time to settle in.

"We feel the delegations of both countries have a responsibility, as responsible nuclear powers, to their own people," the leader of the eight-member Pakistani delegation, Tariq Usman Haider, additional secretary in the Pakistani foreign office, told journalists in New Delhi on his arrival on Friday. "We have come here with a very positive spirit. We will be carrying positive suggestions."

Haider is being assisted at the talks by the foreign office's director general for South Asia and former deputy high commissioner in New Delhi, Jalil Abbas Jilani, and foreign office spokesman Masood Khan, apart from nuclear and defence officials.

The Indian team, led by Dr Sheel Kant Sharma, additional secretary in the external affairs ministry, comprises Meera Shankar, also an additional secretary; Arun K Singh, joint secretary in the external affairs ministry; T C A Raghavan, India's deputy high commissioner in Pakistan; R B Grover, director, Department of Atomic Energy; Vikas Swarup, Brigadier E J Kochekkan, Navin Srivastava, deputy secretary for disarmament, Nutan Kapur Mahavar, undersecretary for disarmament, Dr Deepak Mittal, undersecretary for Pakistan, and Dr V Siddharth of the Defence Research and Development Organisation of the defence ministry.

The talks, which precede the foreign secretary-level 'composite dialogue' process scheduled to begin in Delhi next week (June 27-28), are expected to focus on ways to reduce the chances of nuclear conflict in the subcontinent.

External Affairs Minister Natwar Singh's proposal for a common nuclear doctrine among India, Pakistan, and China is likely to figure in the talks with Pakistan expressing willingness to consider the "new and innovative" proposal.

The 'secret' meeting between new National Security Adviser J N Dixit and Pakistan President General Pervez Musharraf's key aide Tariq Aziz in Amritsar last week was apparently aimed at convincing Islamabad to delink the dispute over Jammu and Kashmir from the nuclear confidence-building talks.

Among the nuclear CBMs already in place is an agreement not to attack each other's nuclear installations, with both sides religiously exchanging lists of nuclear facilities every January 1 since 1991, a practice that was not given up even during the standoff between the two neighbours after the December 13, 2001, attack on Parliament.

Under an informal understanding, the two sides also alert each other about proposed missile tests.

But while India's nuclear doctrine explicitly espouses a 'no first use' policy, Pakistan reserves the right to use nuclear weapons.

While Indian external affairs ministry sources said the talks would be exploratory in nature, the Pakistani delegation is said to have certain 'radical proposals', including, possibly, a suggestion to ensure the separation of warheads from delivery systems (missiles, aircraft) by at least an hour to give both sides a 'strategic window'.

The problem with such a proposal, however, would be ensuring and guaranteeing compliance since neither side is willing to accept verbal assurances, nor is it willing to allow physical verification by the other.

Expressing "cautious optimism" over Pakistan President General Pervez Musharraf's statement in Dubai recently that he was willing to work with India to make South Asia a nuclear-free zone, Indian officials said the question, again, was, how does one ensure compliance that is credible to both sides?

Other ideas likely to be explored over the weekend are the withdrawal of nuclear-capable missiles from the borders, and the setting up of nuclear risk-reduction centres to prevent accidental or unauthorized use of the weapons.

The decision to conduct the talks was first taken during former prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee's visit to Lahore in February 1999, when the two sides signed a memorandum of understanding to start discussions on nuclear doctrines and related security issues. But then came Kargil.

Experts believe that among other issues, the two sides are likely to try and understand each other's nuclear command and control systems, and explore the possibility of setting a nuclear hotline linking them, similar to the one that exists between their directors general of military operations.

An Indian foreign ministry official who did not wish to be identified said that apart from attempts to prevent an accidental nuclear strike, the talks are focusing on ways to assuage international concerns about the safety of the nuclear weapons in the subcontinent.

Briefing journalists before leaving Islamabad for Delhi, Pakistani foreign office spokesman Khan said the talks would focus on nuclear crisis management, strategic stability, risk reduction, and "coordinated, responsible stewardship".

Pointing out that CBMs like advance warnings about missile tests are already in place, he said, "We are not starting from scratch."

The atmosphere at these talks will reflect on the 'composite dialogue' next week, and the meeting between the foreign ministers of the two countries some time in August.

The two ministers, Natwar Singh and Khurshid Ahmed Kasuri, will, however, meet informally at least thrice before that. The first meeting will be in Qingdao, China, on the sidelines of the third Asian Co-operation Dialogue ministerial meeting on June 20-23. They are expected to have an informal private lunch together on June 21, a day after the nuclear talks end in India.

They will meet again at the ASEAN regional forum in Indonesia on July 1-2, and then again at the SAARC ministerial meeting in Islamabad a few days later.

July promises to be a hectic month in the subcontinent, with six sets of meetings (three each in India and Pakistan) as part of the composite dialogue, which will cover the entire gamut of bilateral relations, including Kashmir.

Other issues include peace and CBMs, Siachen, the Wullar Barrage, Sir Creek, terrorism, drug-trafficking, economic and commercial co-operation, and stepping up of exchanges in various economic and cultural fields.

Article Tools
Email this article
Print this article
Write us a letter

Related Stories

India, Pak fix dates for talks

Iraq: BJP targets Natwar Singh

Natwar has busy agenda ahead

Indo-Pak Peace Talk: The Complete Coverage

Copyright © 2003 rediff.com India Limited. All Rights Reserved.