India, Pakistan set for maritime diplomacy Thursday

By Manish Chand, IANS

New Delhi : A week after agreeing to trade more, India and Pakistan are now turning their gaze seawards to build much-needed confidence between their coast guards.

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A delegation of top officials of Pakistan’s Maritime Security Agency headed by Rear Admiral Tayyab Ali Dogar will come here Wednesday for two-day talks with the Indian Coast Guards headed by Vice Admiral Russi Contractor.

The talks, which begin Thursday, will cover a broad range of areas on implementing the memorandum of understanding signed between the two maritime bodies in October 2005 on setting up a communication link and enhancing cooperation between them.

They will discuss a set of related issues like inadvertent straying of fishermen into each other’s maritime area, apprehending vessels, preventing piracy and narcotics smuggling, Pakistan’s deputy high commissioner Afrasiab told IANS.

A MoU establishing communication link between the Indian Coast Guard and MSA was signed in November 2006 during the visit of Pakistan Foreign Secretary Riaz Mohammad Khan that led to the resumption of stalled foreign-secretary level talks between the two countries.

The maritime hotline seeks to facilitate early exchange of information on fishermen who inadvertently stray into each other’s territory and also information on smuggling, pollution and search and rescue operations.

More cooperation between the ICG and MSA could go a long way in mitigating sufferings of the fishermen of both countries as a large number of them keep getting caught after straying into each other’s territorial area as the international maritime boundary between them has yet to be ratified.

Internal political turmoil and unrest in Pakistan for the last four months may have slowed down the peace process between them, but the two countries have kept the fourth round of composite dialogue between them going.

Recently, commerce secretaries of the two countries held wide-ranging talks to spur business ties and set an ambitious target of achieving $10 billion bilateral trade by 2010.

They also agreed to expand bilateral trade basket with India, clearing imports of Pakistani cement. Pakistan showed interest in importing Indian tea. Promoting cooperation over patenting of basmati rice also emerged as an important area of cooperation between them.