Cross-Kashmir CBMs ahead of India, Pakistan talks

By Manish Chand, IANS,

New Delhi: India and Pakistan have decided not to let the July 13 Mumbai terror attacks affect the tempo of their revived peace process and are set to hold preparatory discussions on cross-Kashmir confidence-building measures Monday ahead of the meeting of foreign ministers later this month.

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A six-member Pakistani delegation headed by Zehra H. Akbari, Director General South Asia Division (DGSA) in Pakistan’s Foreign Office, will arrive here Sunday evening, well-placed sources told IANS.

She will hold the meeting of the joint working group on cross-border CBMs with the Indian delegation headed by Y.K. Sinha, joint secretary in charge of Pakistan, Afghanistan and Iran, Monday.

The talks are expected to firm up a slew of CBMs aimed at enhancing travel and trade to bring people of the two halves of Kashmir together. The two sides will also discuss the modalities of the launch of the Kargil-Skardu bus link, an increase in the frequency of cross-Kashmir bus link between Srinagar and Muzaffarabad and an increase in the number of trading days across the Line of Control (LoC), said sources.

Some of these cross-Kashmir CBMs, sources said, are likely to be announced by the foreign ministers of the two countries when they meet here July 27.

Officials of the two sides will also be giving finishing touches to an agreement on liberalising the visa regime that will spur greater people-to-people contacts, which was identified as a focus area by the foreign secretaries of the two countries when they met in Islamabad last month.

A separate meeting of the working group on nuclear CBMs is also expected to be held soon.

Pakistan’s Minister of State for External Affairs Hina Rabbani Khar, who is widely expected to be elevated to the rank of cabinet minister, will be coming here July 26 for talks with External Affairs Minister S.M. Krishna next day, said the sources.

The foreign ministers’ meeting will be preceded by preparatory talks between Pakistan’s Foreign Secretary Salman Bashir and his Indian counterpart Nirupama Rao July 25.

In a sign of maturity in evolving ties that sunk to a new low after 26/11 attacks, India has scrupulously avoided even an insinuation linking elements in Pakistan to the terror strikes that ripped across Mumbai July 13 and underlined that the talks between the foreign ministers of the two countries will go on as scheduled.

New Delhi’s restraint is seen as signaling a strong political will on part of the Manmohan Singh government to continue the re-engagement process India started with Pakistan in February after much domestic opposition.

Although New Delhi acknowledges that Pakistan’s attitude towards terror has changed, a point made by Rao in an interview recently, it continues to have concerns over cross-border terror and these will be conveyed by Krishna to Pakistan at the talks.

India has prepared an “error free” list of most wanted terrorists allegedly hiding in Pakistan in which it has corrected mistakes in the earlier dossier handed over to Islamabad in March. New Delhi expects Islamabad to respond to the new list when the foreign ministers meet here later this month.

(Manish Chand can be contacted at [email protected])