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CCS sets agenda for Natwar’s Pak visit
Rajeev Sharma
Tribune News Service

New Delhi, September 30
The Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS) met under the chairmanship of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh today, two days ahead of External Affairs Minister K. Natwar Singh’s bilateral visit to Pakistan (October 2-5), and set the parameters for Mr Natwar Singh’s talks with the Pakistani leadership.

The EAM is going to Pakistan armed with a host of proposals for improving bilateral relations with Pakistan in such diverse fields as security, defence, trade and commerce, tourism and culture, consular matters, banking, information and broadcasting and telecommunications.

Senior officials from the relevant ministries and departments are a part of his huge official delegation.

There will be a host of new and old military Confidence Building Measures (CBMs) which Mr Natwar Singh will be bringing to the table, though India is not expecting any breakthrough in talks on the Siachen and Sir Creek issues. The two countries have agreed to sort out the Siachen and Sir Creek disputes.

However, The Tribune understands that the CCS, attended by Defence Minister Pranab Mukherjee, Home Minister Shivraj Patil and Finance Minister P. Chidambaram, apart from Mr Natwar Singh, reiterated that India will not pull back its troops from Siachen until Pakistan agrees to demarcation and cartographic representation of the current deployment of Indian and Pakistani troops in the area. The CCS also made it clear that the principle of verification was a pre-requisite and mandatory before any agreement on Siachen is reached.

After the 90-minute CCS meeting, Defence Minister Pranab Mukherjee made two important announcements which the CCS approved: (i) consular and visa services to be further liberalised and (ii) an institutionalised mechanism to be put in place for exchanging a list of prisoners by India and Pakistan twice a year.

Mr Mukherjee said the time frame for consular services would be made available within three months The liberalisation of consular facilities would require an amendment to a 1982 India-Pakistan agreement which will be signed during Mr Natwar Singh’s visit. Further visa liberalisation would take place regarding another previous agreement which will be applicable to those coming for medical treatment.

Besides, a 1974 Protocol signed by the two countries would also be amended to facilitate visits by pilgrims to shrines in each other’s country.

The Defence Minister said the CCS also approved a proposal for exchanging the list of prisoners by India and Pakistan twice a year — January 1 and July 1. Under the earlier provisions, no time frame had been specified for exchanging prisoners’ list.

Mr Natwar Singh’s visit will be crucial as during the visit two agreements are to be signed between India and Pakistan — (i) pre-notification of missile tests, and (ii) establishing communication links between Indian Coast Guards and Pakistan Maritime Security Agency. It will also set the tone for the third round of the Composite Dialogue Process to be started in January.

Besides, Mr Natwar Singh’s visit will mark the first meeting of the revived Indo-Pak Joint Commission after a gap of 16 years.

At the same time, India has noted certain disturbing and confusing signals emanating from Pakistan on the issue of cross-border terrorism and infiltration. One such recent event was Pakistan firebrand Information Minister Sheikh Ahmed Rashid appearing at a public function where he shared the stage with prominent Kashmiri militant Salahuddin.

On trade and commerce, Mr Natwar Singh will take up its proposal of liberalisation of 116 tariff lines which are of interest to Pakistan and discuss ways and means of opening up more trading points on the international land border. India has already proposed to sell Pakistan huge quantities of diesel at highly competitive prices and even proposed a pipeline from Panipat to Pakistan, but there is no positive response from Islamabad yet.

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