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Islamabad signals openness towards New Delhi


Latest update : 2009-09-28

Pakistan has signalled it is ready to resume negotiations with neighbouring India over a wide range of issues after both countries' foreign ministers met on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly in New York.

REUTERS - Pakistan signaled its desire to mend fences with a hesitant India on Sunday as the foreign ministers of the nuclear-armed rivals met but stopped short of announcing a resumption of full-fledged peace negotiations.

India’s S.M. Krishna and Pakistan’s Shah Mehmood Qureshi held a 100-minute meeting on the sidelines of the annual U.N.  General Assembly gathering in a fresh attempt to improve ties soured by last November’s militant attacks in Mumbai, India.

Pakistan has acknowledged that the coordinated attacks in which 166 people died were plotted and partly launched from its soil. It is prosecuting seven suspects in a closed-door hearing that was adjourned last week but is due to resume on Oct. 3.

Comments by the ministers at separate news conferences made clear Pakistan wanted to resume broad talks on everything from Kashmir to trade. India remained cautious, however, demanding tougher action by Islamabad to punish those behind the attacks.

Qureshi said he had made a proposal to India on how the two long-time antagonists might improve relations, including a timetable, but he gave no details.

Another Pakistani official said the proposals were geared toward resuming their “composite dialogue” frozen after Mumbai.  The next logical opportunity for their prime ministers to meet would be at a November Commonwealth summit in Trinidad.

Qureshi said he was willing to travel to India himself if this might improve public sentiment there toward engagement.

“I have suggested to my counterpart a way forward and a road map for the future,” Qureshi told reporters. He declined to elaborate, saying he wanted to give the Indian side time to consider his proposals.

Krishna called the meeting “useful, constructive and candid” but said that for a meaningful dialogue “it is essential to ensure an environment free of violence, terrorism and the threat to use violence.”

“We remain concerned about the threat which groups and individuals in Pakistan continue to pose to us,” he said, adding that he had stressed to Qureshi the need for “concrete and effective steps” against them.

Krishna acknowledged the legal action that Pakistan was taking against suspects in the Mumbai attacks but said “a crime of the magnitude that was committed in Mumbai could not have been done by seven or eight individuals.”

Three wars

India and Pakistan have fought three wars since independence in 1947 and nearly came to blows again in 2002.  The decades of hostility have centered on their dispute over the divided Muslim-majority Himalayan region of Kashmir.

Both countries tested nuclear bombs in 1998.

After the Mumbai attacks, India put on hold a five-year-old peace process. Sunday’s was the fourth bilateral meeting since June aimed at trying to resume a dialogue. The meetings have taken place at international gatherings.

But the thaw has been undermined by political opposition in India and by what Delhi sees as Pakistani foot-dragging in tackling the Lashkar-e-Taiba militant group blamed for Mumbai.

The United States wants the nuclear-armed rivals to reduce tension and resume dialogue so Pakistan can focus on the war against the Taliban and al Qaeda on the Afghan border.

Stressing Islamabad’s impatience, Qureshi said the Indians would “have to understand that the public opinion in Pakistan is today favorable towards a resumption, towards a positive engagement, but it will harden if they drag their feet.”

Pakistan has also signaled a willingness to return to informal peace talks, known as “backchannel diplomacy,” which had hammered out a roadmap for resolving the Kashmir dispute under former President Pervez Musharraf.

But Krishna appeared to dismiss that possibility, saying:
“This question did come up and India is of the opinion that when we are talking to each other, when the front channels are open, what is the need for the back channel?”

Date created : 2009-09-28