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India, Pakistan fail to work out modalities for talks

COLOMBO, July 30 (PTI, UNI) — India and Pakistan today failed to work out the modalities for resuming bilateral Foreign Secretary-level talks, grounded since last September, but decided to continue discussions tomorrow.

Foreign Secretary K. Raghunath held prolonged consultations with his Pakistani counterpart, Mr Shamshad Ahmed, overnight and again today at the beach resort of Benthota, 60 km from here, where leaders of seven SAARC nations, including Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee had gone for their summit retreat.

"We have not yet come to a conclusion..... We will continue discussions tomorrow," a senior Indian official told reporters.

Mr Vajpayee and his Pakistani counterpart, Mr Nawaz Sharif, during their first ever meeting yesterday since the two countries conducted nuclear tests, had agreed to resume the stalled negotiations and had asked their foreign secretaries to discuss the modalities for the talks while in Colombo for the summit.

While Pakistan demanded the setting up of such a group on the basis of the decision taken at the second round in Islamabad in June last year, India maintained that the subject should be discussed at the level of foreign secretaries along with that of peace and security.

Meanwhile, a senior External Affairs Ministry official said India had rejected Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s proposal made in his speech at the inaugural session of the 10th SAARC summit regarding third-party mediation or involvement of SAARC in resolving the Kashmir issue.

He said Jammu and Kashmir was an integral part of India and the talks with Pakistan had to be held within certain parameters which were "reasonable and realistic".

Meanwhile, SAARC leaders today agreed to initiate concrete steps to hasten the process of establishing a South Asian Free Trade Area (SAFTA) and directed officials to complete the current round of tariff and trade negotiations for the purpose by the next month.

This decision was taken by leaders of seven member countries at their retreat meeting.

The Heads of State had comprehensive discussions on the existing trade arrangements and progress made during official-level talks to remove tariff and trade restrictions, a senior Indian official told newspersons.

The leaders agreed to initiate urgent steps to complete the third round of trade negotiations to reduce tariff barriers.

Appreciating Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee’s announcement yesterday to remove restrictions on over 2000 products actively traded in the region, leaders of other SAARC nations discussed steps to take immediate advantage of this.

The leaders also broadly agreed on a regulatory framework for the proposed SAFTA, the official said.

Meanwhile, Mr Jaswant Singh, who represented India at the ASEAN-related meetings in Manila as the Prime Minister’s special envoy, arrived here late last night. He too accompanied Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee to the beach resort. Other ministers who are assisting the Prime Minister in his discussions with other SAARC leaders are Commerce Minister R.K. Hegde and Minister of State for External Affairs Vasundhara Raje.back


Chandrika snubs Sharif
From Shubhabrata Bhattacharya
Tribune News Service

COLOMBO, July 30 — The warmth displayed by the two prime ministers during the bilateral meeting yesterday has not resulted in a discernible thawing of Indo-Pakistan relations.

The two foreign secretaries burnt the proverbial midnight oil yesterday (the meeting lasted till 1.30 am today); they met at the Benthota retreat today (while Joint Secretary-level officials talked to each other in Colombo).

The Foreign Secretary-level talks, for which a two-day framework

was set yesterday have now been extended till tomorrow.

Pakistan’s Prime Minister, Mr Nawaz Sharif, created an unprecedented situation at the retreat — he tried to inject non-charter agenda into the SAARC summit and as a result was snubbed by the summit chairperson and Sri Lankan President,

Mrs Chandrika Bandarnaike Kumaratunga.

It was perhaps a reflection of the Pakistani attitude not only to the SAARC summit but also to India-Pakistan relations: At the outset of the retreat, Mr Sharif personally circulated to the summit leaders a paper containing the Pakistan proposal for a South Asian initiative on peace, security and development — a subject he had mooted at his Summit speech yesterday.

The summit leaders ignored the paper. At the end of the day when Mr Sharif referred to his note, Mrs Kumaratunga snubbed him openly by saying that there was no intention of the summit leaders to deviate from the SAARC agenda, namely, accelerated economic development of the region, with an emphasis on trade, economy, social issues and technological cooperation.

Significantly not one country came to Pakistan’s aid at Benthota today. Yesterday, the SAARC chairperson had observed that "serious note" would be taken of Mr Sharif’s proposal. With today’s snub, the possibility of even that receded to the background.

Even while the Colombo Declaration (to be issued tomorrow) was being drafted at the foreign ministers’ level, Pakistan had attempted to inject peace and security into the document. It failed then. It failed at Benthota today.

Meanwhile the two Foreign Secretaries struggled to work out the nuts and bolts of the resumption of the India-Pakistan dialogue. Though the talks had last been held on June 23 last year, rust seems to have gathered on the nuts and bolts and thus it is taking time to ease out the situation.

The optimism displayed after the Vajpayee-Sharif talks yesterday may not result in a success story being written in a two-day framework. However, a positive twist has been given. Even if India and Pakistan agree to disagree at the bilateral level in Colombo, it will not mean that the continuing process of bilateral talks will not go on.

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