M A I N   N E W S

India, Pak disagree on core issues
But agree to forge banking ties
Rajeev Sharma
Tribune News Service

New Delhi, November 24
India and Pakistan stuck to their respectively stated positions on Kashmir and continued to have differences on the proposed Srinagar-Muzaffarabad bus service and the gas pipeline as Prime Minister Manmohan Singh held talks today with his visiting Pakistani counterpart Shaukat Aziz.

Despite their agreeing to disagree on some core issues, the two countries today decided to set up banks in each other’s country on reciprocal basis. The central banks of the two countries will “take the idea forward”.

The two Prime Ministers met for a 45-minute restricted meeting with only a few aides present on each side. Thereafter, there was a one-hour delegation-to-delegation level meeting which was followed by a lunch hosted by the Prime Minister in honour of Mr Aziz.

On the bilateral front, there was satisfaction that the dialogue process was moving forward and both sides reiterated their commitment to take this process forward.

Dr Manmohan Singh raised the issue of the continued presence of terrorism infrastructure in Pakistan and recalled the assurance contained in the January 6, 2004 Joint Statement between India and Pakistan which specifically referred to the assurance given by Pakistan that no territory under the control of Pakistan would be utilised for any cross border terrorism.

Dr Manmohan Singh told Mr Aziz that India was committed to addressing all the different items of the bilateral agenda including the issue of Jammu and Kashmir.

Foreign Secretary Shyam Saran, while briefing reporters, summed up the government’s stand on talks with Pakistan vis a vis the Kashmir issue as follows: “There is a new mood among the people of both countries. People of both countries want peace... In the way we look at it, the confidence building process is not a deflection from the Jammu and Kashmir issue. In fact, it is integral to seeking a solution to the complex problem of Jammu and Kashmir... We are not looking at territorial solutions. Ours is a people- centered approach. We are looking at how we can somehow ameliorate the negative consequences of the lines which have been put on the map, try to bring people together. After all, what is the Srinagar- Muzaffarabad bus service about? This is also to bring people together. So, the affinities that are there on either side of the LoC or either side of the international boundary, those affinities should be allowed to expand.”

The Foreign Secretary announced that towards the conclusion of this meeting, Mr Aziz extended an invitation to Dr Manmohan Singh to visit Pakistan which was very warmly accepted. The dates for this visit would be worked out through diplomatic channels.

During his interaction with the media after his luncheon meeting with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, Mr Aziz set the record straight when he stated that he did not carry President Pervez Musharraf’s “seven regions” formula on Kashmir which he said was meant for public debate in Pakistan. “No proposals were presented to India. No reaction was expected from India,” he said.

On the Srinagar-Muzaffarabad bus service, Mr Aziz said the issue of travel documents and "a lot of other details" had still to be sorted out first. On his part, Indian Foreign Secretary, while fielding questions on this subject at his separate briefing, said these and many more such questions will come up when the technical-level discussions are held here on December 7-8.

He reiterated Pakistan's commitment to continuing the dialogue process with India and added that Islamabad favoured settlement of all issues in a friendly manner to the benefit of the entire region.

On the issue of Iranian gas pipeline to India transiting through Pakistan, Mr Aziz said it wanted India to be on board, though he also made it clear that Pakistan would go ahead with this gas pipeline anyway for its own domestic consumption even if India were not interested. "We are talking to several countries — Turkmenistan, Qatar and Iran — to get gas for Pakistan itself.

Mr Aziz made light of the oft-repeated security concerns about the pipeline and said the pipeline would be "absolutely safe". He pointed out that there were international mechanisms to provide guarantees with regard to the safe operation of such a pipeline. He described the proposed pipeline as a win-win situation for both India and Pakistan.

Mr Aziz said progress on resolving the Kashmir problem will have to be made in tandem with progress on other issues. "As regards Jammu and Kashmir, we believe this is an issue we all need to discuss and address. Progress on other issues will be made in tandem with progress on Jammu and Kashmir," he said.

He repeated the well-known Pakistani position of backing the All Party Hurriyat Conference to the hilt with whom he met for more than five hours jointly and separately last night. "We believe that the Hurriyat Conference represents a very important and key group of people of Kashmir."

Foreign Secretary Shyam Saran said there was "a very wide ranging exchange of views" which took place in a "friendly and constructive atmosphere".

SAARC was an important item on the agenda of talks as Mr Aziz is visiting India in his capacity as Chairman of SAARC. In this context, both sides agreed that SAARC had not really lived up to its potential and that there was a need to work together in order to realise this potential.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh mentioned the Indian proposal for setting up a High Economic Council which would include Ministers of Finance, Commerce and possibly representatives of Planning Commissions to give shape to India's vision of a South Asia Economic Union.

Mr Aziz supported India's SAARC-related proposals and from his own side underlined the need for strengthening the mechanisms of SAARC, in particular a Secretariat for SAARC.

The two Prime Ministers also discussed South Asian Free Trade Area (SAFTA) and how to take this process forward.

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