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India, Pakistan talk, but no plan for resumption of dialogue

New Delhi, Feb 25 (IANS) India and Pakistan held their first formal dialogue since the Mumbai terror attack here Thursday, but a breakthrough eluded them, with New Delhi making it clear that the time was ‘not yet ripe’ for resuming composite dialogue till a climate of trust was created over its ‘core concern’ over terror.

Amid sharply differing agendas, the stalemate persisted despite both sides insisting that there were ‘useful, cordial and transparent discussions’ on issues of concern to them, with no plan for further talks. India’s Foreign Secretary Nirupama Rao and her Pakistani counterpart Salman Bashir, who met first by themselves for one and a half hours and then with their delegations at Hyderabad House, indicated they would remain in touch, though no dates were fixed.

Putting India’s concerns over cross-border terror at the heart of re-engagement with Pakistan, Rao gave Bashir three fresh dossiers linking elements in that country with various terror attacks in India. She also demanded strong action against Hafiz Saeed, the suspected mastermind of the Mumbai carnage, and other militant outfits who have launched virulent anti-India rhetoric since the announcement of talks early this month.

‘We have agreed to remain in touch and continue our endeavour to restore our trust,’ said Rao, adding she had been invited to Pakistan. Turning down Pakistan’s renewed call for resumption of across-the-board composite dialogue, Rao stressed said that while Islamabad had raised it during the talks, the ‘time was not yet ripe’ unless there was a ‘climate of trust’.

Instead, India has opted for incremental approach to bridge the trust deficit that had deepened since the Mumbai attacks brought ties to a new low. ‘In line with the graduated and step-by-step approach, our aims were modest. We had a useful discussion during which I spelt out forthrightly our concerns on terrorism emanating from Pakistan against India.’

After first saying that the talks at the Hyderabad House should not be seen either as a success or a failure, Bashir said that India and Pakistan needed to ‘rebuild confidence and trust’ and exhorted India not to let the entire relationship be held hostage to the ‘single issue’ of the Mumbai carnage in which 166 people were killed.

‘It was a good interaction. We did agree that this regression (in bilateral ties) needed to stop. We need to rebuild confidence and trust… We know all is not well, that much more needs to be done. We will of course try to do what we can in a serious effort to get … on a highway of peace and good relationship,’ he said.

But it was clear that their view of what is to be done to further their dialogue process differed sharply as India stressed that its core concern was terrorism while the Pakistani side said the Kashmir dispute was the core issue.

Although Bashir said the Kashmir issue was discussed extensively, the Indian sources said 85 percent of the discussions focused on India’s concerns over continuing anti-India terror attacks. Rao asked Pakistan to crack down on all anti-India terrorist groups on its soil and referred to infiltration of militants into Jammu and Kashmir.

‘While acknowledging the steps taken by Pakistan to bring the perpetrators of the Mumbai attack to book, I pointed out that these did not go far enough to unravel the full conspiracy … and to award exemplary punishment to the culprits,’ she said, reiterating India’s known posture. Rao said three dossiers were handed over to the Pakistanis asking them to take action against terrorists on its soil.

‘We gave them information on some individuals associated with the Mumbai terror attack. We gave them another dossier on threats issued by Ilyas Kashmiri. Thirdly, we gave them the dossier about fugitives from Indian law who are in Pakistan,’ Rao said.

Ilyas Kashmiri, commander of the Al Qaeda wing in Pakistan, has issued threats to sporting events in India, including the hockey World Cup set to start in New Delhi Sunday, the Indian Premier League and the bigger Commonwealth Games.

Rao said the Mumbai attack was a ‘symptom of a larger problem’ that the ‘continued existence and unhindered activities of organisations such as Lashkar-e-Taiba, Jamaat ud Dawa, Hizb ul Mujahideen from Pakistani territory and territory under Pakistan’s control to perpetrate terrorist violence against India’.

On his part, Bashir underlined Pakistan’s desire to discuss the ‘core issue’ of Jammu and Kashmir and alleged that New Delhi was covertly using Afghanistan as a base to supply weapons to insurgents in Balochistan. Rao, however, rejected Pakistan’s allegation saying India had no desire to interfere in internal affairs of another country.

Bashir said Pakistan had done what it could to act against the perpetrators of the Mumbai attack and it would be ‘unfair and unrealistic and counter-productive’ to make this issue hostage to their overall relationship which even at the best of times remains tense. Bashir and Rao, who have known each other well, first met by themselves for 90 minutes. They were joined by the two delegations for another an hour and 40 minutes in one of the most intense bilateral interactions since the Mumbai carnage. Bashir also met India’s National Security Adviser Shivshankar Menon, Rao’s predecessor as foreign secretary who also served as India’s envoy in Islamabad.

Bashir said the Pakistani leadership had ‘immense respect for the vision of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. We feel he is really keen, he has the vision for a peaceful and prosperous South Asia. We are prepared to move forward and to improve our relationship and turn a new chapter.’

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