New Delhi, Feb 24 (IANS) India and Pakistan will Thursday enter into their first formal bilateral talks since the 26/11 terror attack – albeit with different agendas – in a bid to defreeze post-Mumbai tensions that plunged ties to a new low.
Pakistan Foreign Secretary Salman Bashir, along with a five-member delegation, will arrive here later Wednesday for talks with his Indian counterpart Nirupama Rao.
‘India is going into talks with an open mind but is fully conscious of the limitations imposed by the trust deficit post-Mumbai,’ said a government source.
‘New Delhi is fully aware of the complexities involved but will use this opportunity to clear the air as much as possible and seek to take a first step, even if small, towards opening the possibilities for future dialogue.’
Besides Bashir, the Pakistani delegation will comprise Afrasiab, director-general of the South Asia division, Pakistan’s High Commissioner Shahid Malik, Pakistan’s Foreign Office spokesperson Abdul Basit and other senior officials.
The Indian team will include Y.K. Sinha, joint secretary in charge of Pakistan, India’s High Commissioner to Islamabad Sharat Sabharwal, and Vishnu Prakash, spokesperson of the external affairs ministry.
The delegation-level talks are expected to last for at least two hours Thursday.
Indian and Pakistani leaders met at Sharm-el-Sheikh in Egypt last year. But this is the first structured dialogue since the Mumbai attack 14 months ago that put the breaks on the composite dialogue process.
The Pakistani delegation will call on National Security Adviser Shivshankar Menon, a former foreign secretary and a former Indian envoy to Islamabad. They will call on External Affairs Minister S.M. Krishna Friday morning before heading back to Islamabad.
The outcome of the talks will determine the future trajectory of engagement between the two neighbours.
A positive outcome could set the stage for summit-level talks between the leaders of the two countries on the sidelines of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) summit in Thimphu in April and brighten the possibilities of resumption of a broader dialogue.
India and Pakistan go into these crucial talks with sharply differing agendas.
New Delhi has made it clear that cross-border terrorism will be the core issue as its concerns over the activities of anti-India terror outfits operating from the Pakistani territory are yet to be adequately addressed.
The Indian side is also expected to seek speedy action against the masterminds of the Mumbai carnage.
Ahead of the talks, Rao said at an international seminar in London that the proposal of talks from India was ‘another sincere attempt’ to initiate dialogue with Pakistan.
‘We hope we can build, in a graduated manner, better communication and a serious and responsive dialogue to address issues of concern between our two countries,’ she said.
Pakistan, on the other hand, wants talks to move beyond what it calls the narrow agenda of terrorism to focus on its concerns over the Kashmir issue and a festering river water dispute.
The Pakistani side may also rake up allegations of the alleged complicity of India in the insurgency in Balochistan.
In Beijing, Pakistan Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi Tuesday sought to give a new twist by attempting to bring in China as a potential mediator between India and Pakistan. India reacted sharply, rejecting any third-party mediation in bilateral issues.