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India, Pakistan talk finally, but trust deficit remains

New Delhi, Feb 25 (IANS) India and Pakistan held their first structured dialogue since the Mumabi terror attack here Thursday, with the over three-hour talks between foreign secretaries resulting in some warmth but their ties still marred by contrasting views on the way forward.

But despite their persistent differences and recriminations, India’s Nirupama Rao and Pakistan’s Salman Bashir, who met first by themselves for one and a half hours and then with their delegations, said that their discussions were useful. They indicated they would meet again, though no dates were fixed.

After first saying that the talks at the Hyderabad House should not be seen either as a success or a failure, Bashir told a news conference that India and Pakistan needed to ‘rebuild confidence and trust’.

‘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.

Speaking earlier, Rao said the two nuclear-armed countries had ‘useful, candid discussions. There was good chemistry between the two delegations. All in all, both sides benefitted’.

She added that trust and confidence between the two countries must be restored. ‘We have agreed to remain in touch and continue our endeavour to restore our trust,’ said Rao, adding she had been invited to Pakistan.

But it was clear that their worldviews of what is to be done to further their dialogue process differed sharply.

The Pakistani side demanded the resumption of the composite dialogue suspended by India after Pakistani terrorists sneaked into Mumbai some 14 months ago and slaughtered 166 people. New Delhi said the time was not ready for that but did not rule it out completely.

Rao also asked Pakistan to crack down on all anti-India terrorist groups on its soil and referred to infiltration of militants into Jammu and Kashmir, whose ownership the two countries dispute.

‘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.

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.

He 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 Shiv Shankar Menon, Rao’s predecessor as foreign secretary who also served as India’s envoy in Islamabad.

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 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’.

Earlier, she described the Mumbai attack has having ‘erased the trust and confidence the two countries had painstakingly built during 2004-07’.

On the issue of resuming the composite dialogue, she said that while Pakistan had raised it during the talks, India had said that the ‘time was not yet ripe’ unless there was a ‘climate of trust’.

‘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.’

Bashir called the Jammu and Kashmir dispute ‘an international issue’ and spoke about human rights violations in the state. He said that terror had no ideology or borders and Pakistan had suffered ‘hundreds of Mumbais’.

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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