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Natwar’s maiden Pak visit on July 19
Rajeev Sharma
Tribune News Service

New Delhi, July 5
Mr K. Natwar Singh will be making his maiden visit to Pakistan as India’s External Affairs Minister on July 19 during which he is likely to meet Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf as well as new Prime Minister Chaudhary Shujat Hussain, sources said today.

These meetings would act as diplomatic symbolism as neither Mr Natwar Singh nor the Pakistani President/Prime Minister are obliged to meet each other because the External Affairs Minister’s Islamabad visit is not a bilateral visit.

Mr Natwar Singh is going to Pakistan for attending a multilateral event — a ministerial conference of South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation. He will be meeting his Pakistani counterpart, Khurshid Mehmood Kasuri, also with whom he has already met at Qingdao (China) and Jakarta (Indonesia) in the past fortnight for multilateral events.

The two Foreign Ministers are scheduled to meet again here next month for a crucial bilateral meeting to review the progress of the Composite Dialogue.

The SAARC ministerial conference is to be held in Islamabad on January 20-21 which will be preceded by Joint Secretary-level SAARC Programming Committee meeting (July 16-17) and Foreign Secretary-level meeting (July 18-19).

The conference would conduct the mid-term review of the progress made in implementing the decisions taken at the 13th SAARC summit held in Islamabad this January. The conference will also decide on dates for the next SAARC summit to be held in Bangladesh.

ICG report

Meanwhile, Mr Natwar Singh’s maiden visit to Pakistan would take place against the backdrop of a hard-hitting report by the Brussels-based international think tank, International Crisis Group.

The ICG’s latest report, entitled “India/Pakistan Relations and Kashmir: Steps Towards Peace”, warns against pushing the pace of the Indo-Pak dialogue.

“The way ahead is treacherous, and if the past is a guide, any number of missteps could once again derail the normalisation process. Overcoming decades of hostility and suspicion requires time. India and Pakistan must recognise that their budding dialogue will only succeed if it is gradual, sustained and pursued outside the glare of the media. Resisting temptations to push the pace on contentious and complex issues such as Kashmir, they should opt instead to move toward a steady normalisation of relations,” the ICG report says.

Significantly, the ICG report advises Pakistan to take the following steps as important Confidence Building Measures:

* Demonstrate to India and the international community a genuine determination to curb extremism in Kashmir by stopping all support to militants in Jammu and Kashmir, launching a more intensive effort to crack down on Pakistan-based extremist organisations, preventing use of its territory for training extremists, and halting infiltrations across the LoC.

* Stop exploiting divisions within the APHC, for example by pitting pro-Pakistan hardliners like Syed Ali Geelani against more moderate elements like Maulvi Abas Ansari and Mirwaiz Umar Farooq who have proved willing to negotiate with India, thereby weakening the organisation and its role in promoting a peaceful solution of the Kashmir dispute.
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