M A I N   N E W S

Indo-Pak talks run into trouble
* Pak wants reduction of troops in J&K
* India says end infiltration first
T.R. Ramachandran
Tribune News Service

New York, September 15
The Indo-Pakistan talks ran into trouble late last night with both sides failing to make any significant move, except to reiterate their resolve not to allow terrorism to impede the peace process.

Clearly, the talks had hit a deep trough with Pakistan seeking the help of the US President George Bush in persuading India for reducing troops in Jammu and Kashmir from specific areas for resolving the protracted Kashmir issue.

Pakistan had sought meaningful steps for troop reduction in the frontier areas of Baramula and Kupwara. India could not agree to the suggestion as neither cross-border infiltration had come to a halt nor the violent activities of the terrorists aided from across the border had abated.

There was palpable disquiet in the Indian camp with Gen Musharraf accusing India of no reciprocity on the key Kashmir issue as all other confidence-building measures will lose their impact. Pakistan’s ambassador to the US Gen Jehangar Karamat somewhat muddled the waters in the ongoing peace process by observing that their troop withdrawal proposal “is a message for India and the US as well” especially as Washington has been facilitating the peace process between the two South Asian neighbours.

On the other hand, India has consistently maintained that these are bilateral problems and will have to be dealt without any third party intervention.

There was palpable tension all around at the New York Palace hotel here where Prime Minister Manmohan Singh hosted a dinner for Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf. The talks lasted more than three hours and drafting of the joint statement took place after a flurry of activity. The two sides reached an agreed formulation which was clinched well past the midnight hour after more than four hours of wrangling. It was all part of Pakistan’s pressure tactics which backfired.

The joint statement was as bland as it could be and significantly alluded to the commitment of both India and Pakistan “to ensure a peaceful settlement of all pending issues, including Jammu and Kashmir, to the satisfaction of both sides. They agreed that possible options for a peaceful, negotiated settlement in this regard should continue to be pursued in a sincere spirit and purposeful manner.”

The two leaders referred to the earlier statements of January 6, 2004, and April 18, 2005, and reiterated their pledge that they would not allow terrorism to impede the peace process.

They reaffirmed their commitment to the decisions taken at their meeting in New Delhi and agreed to expedite their implementation. They also welcomed the progress made within the framework of the composite dialogue, including promotion of trade and economic relations, people-to- people contacts and confidence-building measures. They welcomed the recent release of prisoners on both sides and agreed to continue this process on a humanitarian basis.

Gen Musharraf read out the joint statement saying that Dr Singh had allowed him to do so and immediately accepted suggestions to take a few questions. That, in fact, led to an abrupt end of the press conference when a Pakistani scribe asked the Prime Minister what alternative suggestion did he have for resolving the Kashmir issue if “there is no question of redrawing the borders.”

Dr Singh immediately said that the joint statement was sufficient as it covered extensive ground. “I am satisfied with the discussions,” he said. He made it clear that he and Gen Musharraf will answer questions some other time. Pakistan TV scribes immediately went on an overdrive insisting that the talks had failed and attributed it to India not making any concessions on Kashmir.

Dr Singh reminded Gen Musharraf of his promise given in July that Pakistan will take steps to stop cross-border infiltration and dismantle the infrastructure for terrorism on its soil within one month by the end of August. That, however, has not happened and the Prime Minister once again urged Gen Musharraf to implement his part of the bargain.

The Manmohan Singh government has emphasised that troop reduction in Kashmir or declaring a ceasefire in the valley plagued by terrorist violence for nearly two decades can only fructify if infiltration stops and violence ceases. Both these have not happened and there cannot be any complacency or lowering of guard by India.

Earlier in the day, while addressing the UN General Assembly, Gen Musharraf once again raised the Kashmir issue stressing that: “We want the dialogue process to be result-oriented and initiate a new era of peace and cooperation in South Asia. Our nations must not remain trapped by hate and history in a cycle of confrontation and conflict. For this to happen it is essential to find a just solution to the dispute over Jammu and Kashmir acceptable to Pakistan, India and above all to the people of Kashmir.”

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