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Pak to hold inter-ministerial meeting on Indian talks offer

Pakistan will hold high-level confabulations in Islamabad on Wednesday to discuss India’s
offer for Foreign Secretary-level talks amid its insistence that such a meeting should lead to the full-fledged resumption of the composite dialogue.

Pakistan is in a dilemma over the Indian offer of talks which is confined to discuss terrorism and is in the process of formulating a response.

Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi will chair the inter-ministerial meeting at the Foreign Office to assess the Indian offer of talks, after which a clearer picture of Pakistan’s response is expected to emerge.

The meeting is expected to be attended by representatives of the interior and defence ministries and the intelligence agencies, including the ISI.

India’s offer for talks, conveyed by Foreign Secretary Nirupama Rao last month, was the subject of in-house consultations at the Foreign Office on Monday.

India has offered February 18 and 25 as possible dates for a meeting of the Foreign Secretaries. During Monday’s consultations, Foreign Secretary Salman Bashir favoured the adoption of a cautious approach by Pakistan and made it clear that any parleys with India should lead to the eventual resumption of the composite dialogue that was stalled in the wake of the 2008 Mumbai
terror attacks, the sources told PTI.

India has offered Foreign Secretary-level talks as part of a “practical and pragmatic” approach to seek redressal of its core concern of cross-border terrorism.

New Delhi has underlined that the proposed Foreign Secretary-level talks would not mean resumption of composite dialogue even though it is ready to discuss whatever issue Pakistan raises, including Balochistan, as it wants to deal with the situation in a “mature” and “confident” manner.

There was resistance in Pakistan to accepting talks under a new framework or holding parleys that did not lead to the restoration of the composite dialogue, the sources said.

During any parleys, there would have to be some sort of understanding that composite dialogue would be revived, they said.

When Rao conveyed the offer of talks to Bashir, she gave no indication about the resumption of the composite dialogue that began in 2004. She only said India was willing to discuss terrorism and other issues “hurting” bilateral relations.

On the other hand, Pakistan has been insisting on the resumption of the composite dialogue process that covers eight issues, including the Kashmir dispute.

Foreign Office spokesman Abdul Basit has said that the two countries already have an established framework for parleys and there is “no need to reinvent the wheel”.

At the same time, the Foreign Office is faced with a dilemma as it does not want Pakistan to be seen as spurning the Indian offer for talks.

Meanwhile, the Daily Times newspaper quoted diplomatic sources as saying that Pakistan might adopt a “tough stance” over India’s offer for talks and press for “result-oriented dialogue” linked to a timeline for resolving all outstanding issues, including the Kashmir dispute.

The daily said Pakistan is wary of an “open-ended” peace process that could linger for years without any tangible progress on key issues that have impacted bilateral relations for decades.
Pakistan wants a “fruitful engagement that will result in the solution of real problems and help bring peace,” it said.

Islamabad would also seek New Delhi’s assurance that it will not unilaterally suspend the peace process in case of a terrorist attack by “non-state actors,” the sources added.

Pakistan’s High Commissioner to India Shahid Malik has been summoned to Islamabad to attend consultations at the Foreign Office and brief the government on his meetings with Indian officials, including Foreign Secretary Rao.

The peace process was suspended by India after the Mumbai attacks in November 2008. Since then, India has linked the resumption of talks to Pakistan taking action against the perpetrators of the attacks.

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