M A I N   N E W S

Natwar, Kasuri hold positive talks
India has “open mind” on oil pipeline
Rajeev Sharma
Tribune News Service

New Delhi, September 5
A new area of possible cooperation between India and Pakistan emerged on the day one of Foreign Minister-level talks here as New Delhi, for the first time, told Islamabad that it had an “open mind” on an Indo-Iran overland pipeline passing through Pakistani territory subject to three conditions.

Another positive development in today’s talks was that the two countries are expected to announce tomorrow dates for technical-level talks on Srinagar-Muzaffarabad bus service and Munabao-Hokhrapar rail link, subject to last-minute hitches.

Top sources told The Tribune this evening that India assured to look into the Pakistani proposal of agreeing to the proposed pipeline with an open mind provided its following three concerns are met:

(i) A guarantee from Pakistan of the proposed pipeline’s physical security given the conditions in Pakistan, particularly the Baluchistan province. More than 300 km of the proposed 1000-km-long pipeline will pass through Baluchistan.

(ii) The security of the pipeline as a project in the context of mercurial and unpredictable nature of relations between India and Pakistan so that the huge investment does not go waste in case bilateral relations between the two countries touch a political nadir.

(iii) A simultaneous level of bilateral cooperation in trade which can be manifest only if Pakistan gives Most-Favoured Nation status to India (as India did to Pakistan years ago) and allows transit rights to Indian goods bound for Central Asia.

The Indian side, led by External Affairs Minister K. Natwar Singh, did not forget to drive home one point to the Khurshid Mehmood Kasuri-led Pakistani side that while they continued to have “Kashmir-first-trade-later” atitude, they were ready to do business with India on the pipeline project.

Yet another specific and concrete development that emerged during the Natwar-Kasuri talks today was a move forward on nine military Confidence-Building Measures (CBMs) that India had proposed some time back. One of these pertains to having a Memorandum of Understanding between the Indian Coast Guards and Pakistan’s Maritime Security Agency for establishing direct communication links.

Sources said Pakistan gave a draft agreement to India in this context and India had given it back to the Pakistanis with certain revisions. The Chiefs of the Indian Coast Guards and Pakistan Maritime Security Agency may meet in October-November to sign this agreement.

On the contentious issue of Kashmir, however, the two sides reiterated their respective positions: India reiterating its concerns on terrorist activities in Jammu and Kashmir that continue in similar intensity as before while Pakistan complaining of slow or no progress on resolution of the Kashmir issue.

According to the Government of India’s figures about various terrorist incidents in Jammu and Kashmir in July this year, as manyu as 125 terrorists were killed and 250-odd incidents of interdictions and other terrorist activities were reported as against more or less the same number in July 2003. For the month of July this year, there were 94 civilians killed in J&K as against 75 civilians killed in July 2003.

Key sources in the Government of India told The Tribune that there were signs of Pakistan gradually moving away from a rigid timeline for resolution of the Kashmir issue, though they would keep moaning and complaining about the so-called lack of progress on the subject.

At the end of the first day of the foreign minister-level talks, the two sides issued a two-paragraph joint press statement which said the talks were held in a “friendly, cordial, affable and constructive atmosphere”. It also said: “The two Ministers reviewed the recommendations of the Foreign Secretaries and assessed positively the results of the meetings held in the first round of the Composite Dialogue. The Foreign Minister-level talks will continue tomorrow.”

Meanwhile, the Pakistani foreign office spokesman, Mr Masood Khan, said in a briefing in Pakistan High Commission that “there is no question mark on the continuation of the dialogue process.” Asked if he was happy at today’s talks, Mr Khan said: “It is not not a question of being happy or unhappy. The process has been satisfactory ...Everything was discussed, including Jammu and Kashmir, Siachen and Confidence-Building Measures”.

The Pakistani spokesman described the progress so far in the Composite Dialogue process as “satisfactory”. He hinted at Kashmir being one of the issues on which progress had not been achieved.

On a question about the Srinagar-Muzzafarabad bus link, he said both sides had agreed to this in principle, but some issues remained to be discussed and sorted out, such as the nature of documents to be carried by passengers.

Mr Khan said the two sides made efforts to create space for moving forward. On the pace of the dialogue, he said “it is determined by the reality on the ground” but declined to elaborate.

He also said that a joint statement was expected to be issued by the two sides tomorrow after conclusion of the Foreign Minister-level talks. He vehemently denied allegations that Pakistan was supporting cross-border terrorism. “The Indian side did raise the issue of increase in infiltration into Jammu and Kashmir but it is the stated position of the Pakistan Government that it is not supporting any kind of cross-border terrorism.” 

HOME PAGE | Punjab | Haryana | Jammu & Kashmir | Himachal Pradesh | Regional Briefs | Nation | Opinions |
| Business | Sports | World | Mailbag | Chandigarh | Ludhiana | Delhi |
| Calendar | Weather | Archive | Subscribe | Suggestion | E-mail |