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The Rediff Special/Sheela Bhatt in New Delhi

Indo-Pak talks: Warm up for PM-Musharraf meet

September 03, 2004

At a recent meeting, Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh expressed concern over the slow progress in resolving outstanding issues between India and Pakistan.

Defence Minister Pranab Mukherjee, the veteran politician, coolly told Singh that the previous government too had to deal with these issues and future governments too would have to deal with them.

That is the nature of India-Pakistan ties.

A lot of talk, no outcome or progress.

Yet another round of talks is slated for Sunday and Monday, September 5 and 6. The respective foreign ministers will lead the two sides.

Since it is just three months since the United Progressive Alliance government took over, nothing substantial will emerge.

It is simply a warming up exercise to inject some energy to the proposed first-ever meeting between Manmohan Singh and Pakistan President General Pervez Musharraf on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly session in mid-September in New York.

Both ministers are expected to go back to their bosses to prepare them for the New York encounter.

The prime minister is no authority on India-Pakistan relations or the Kashmir issue and is hence unlikely to deviate from the established position on various issues.

External Affairs Minister K Natwar Singh is an expert on both issues and also senior to the prime minister in all respects.

But there are some significant changes.

For one, the UPA government appears prepared to make the Line of Control in Jammu and Kashmir 'softer' to enhance people-to-people contact. The aim is to achieve some 'realistic progress' in the dialogue process and keep up the momentum.

This is a follow-up on the National Democratic Alliance government's proposal to start a bus service between Srinagar and Muzaffarabad in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir. However, the UPA government is yet to make an official announcement or reveal details.

Secondly, thus far, only the Bharatiya Janata Party and the Sangh Parivar were seen to be taking a hawkish stand on Pakistan.

But the Congress-led UPA government has sent stern signals to the hawks across the border.

Natwar Singh has said not only will he raise the issue of 'cross-border terrorism' but also demand that Pakistan hand over  25 people accused of involvement in terrorism-related incidents in India.

National Security Adviser J N Dixit set the agenda for this weekend's meeting by indicating that economic issues would dominate the talks.

Kashmir is an important issue between India and Pakistan, Dixit said, but its resolution should not hold the 1.6 billion people of the sub-continent hostage.

Indian officials are not known to talk in this tone. They are not going over the top but no one is missing former deputy prime minister L K Advani's tough posturing.

"Like the BJP, we will keep talking about the importance and continuation of the peace process. They had created an aura around the peace process and we will do the same," a senior Congress leader told

The September 5-6 meeting is important in the context of keeping the peace process on track. Considering the innumerable irritants between the two countries, it is almost imperative for them to meet as often as possible.

From the missing 35 pillars demarcating the international border between India and Pakistan (they had been installed in the Jammu sector soon after Independence) to the plight of over 400 fishermen detained in Pakistan, a dialogue is badly needed.

In the last few months, Pakistan has released about 600 fishermen, but over 400, mostly from Gujarat, continue to languish in its custody for entering its territorial waters illegally.

Both countries need to make a permanent arrangement to ensure the automatic and quick release of fishermen. According to the external affairs ministry, this is one of the issues Singh will take up with Kasuri.

But Natwar Singh is yet to find his groove and does not want to raise expectations. On September 2, he told mediapersons, 'Don't expect a dramatic breakthrough.'

But he did add, 'This (the recent peace process) is the most sustained engagement between the two countries since the dialogue between Swaran Singh and Zulfiqar Bhutto in 1972-73. We are ready to discuss all issues with Pakistan on a sustained basis, including Kashmir.'

The recent increase in diplomatic activity and warmth in relations notwithstanding, the fact remains that things have not really changed much.

Before arriving in New Delhi, Pakistan Foreign Minister Khurshid M Kasuri objected to India repeatedly raising the issue of cross-border terrorism in the days leading to the scheduled talks.

In plain language, India accuses the Pakistani establishment of sponsoring the jihad in Jammu and Kashmir by pushing terrorists across the Line of Control.

Ignoring Kasuri's complaint, Singh reiterated, 'India will raise its concerns over cross-border terrorism with Pakistan.'

Also Read

PM meets Vajpayee ahead of Indo-Pak talks

India ready to make LoC in J&K 'softer'

'Softer' LoC: How feasible is it?

Will a 'softer' LoC foster peace?

According to the South Asia Terrorism Portal (, out of 1,294 casualties in Jammu and Kashmir from January to August, 662 were terrorists; most of them were jihadis from Pakistan.

In July, the casualty figures were almost the same as the corresponding figures of the last two years proving Pakistan's claim of controlling cross-border infiltration hollow.

Natwar Singh wants to express his concern over the deteriorating situation at the ground level at the Line of Control.

Expect plenty of shadow boxing and since both ministers are mavericks, journalists can expect good copy.

Meanwhile, the people of Jammu and Kashmir must exercise patience.

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