M A I N   N E W S

India, Pak heading for Siachen breakthrough
Rajeev Sharma
Tribune News Service

Islamabad, October 3
Back-channel diplomacy was in full swing as India and Pakistan late tonight appeared to be converging towards having a formal agreement on resolving the Siachen dispute. The final word, however, would come after the visiting External Affairs Minister, Mr K Natwar Singh, calls on Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf.

Indications given to The Tribune were that the two sides animatedly discussed two issues where they thought their convergences were most likely as of now — Siachen and Sir Creek.

If everything goes off well, the two nuclear neighbours may soon find themselves announcing modalities for the withdrawal of troops from the world's highest battlefield. This announcement may also lead to another big forward movement in Indo-Pak relations: a visit to Islamabad from Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.

Diplomatic sources said tomorrow holds the key for the back-channel diplomatic work which was done throughout the day and which continued till late into the night.

Meanwhile, earlier in the day External Affairs Minister K Natwar Singh and his Pakistani counterpart Khurshid Mehmood Kasuri made steady progress in their bilateral talks aimed at normalisation of relations which was reflected by the signing of a first-ever agreement between the two countries on pre-notification of flight testing of ballistic missiles.

Significantly, the two countries discussed the Iran-Pakistan-India gas pipeline also and Mr Saran said in response to a question from a Pakistani journalist that India’s vote in Vienna had “nothing to do with the pipeline”.

The two sides also signed a Memorandum of Understanding for the establishment of a communication link between the Indian Coast Guard and the Pakistan Maritime Security Agency, hoped to reopen their consulates in Mumbai and Karachi from January 1, 2006 and start the Khokhrapar-Munabao rail link as early as possible, if not by the turn of this year.

As a goodwill gesture, the Indian side conveyed to Islamabad its suo motu decision of releasing 30 more Pakistani prisoners “very shortly”.

The Indian side raised two specific issues which it considered to be important for the region as a whole and not just to India: (a) the need for opening up more and more trading points on the land border and (b) Pakistan giving transit rights to India for accessing Central Asia and Gulf which will bolster the Pakistani economy in a big way. The Pakistani response to these was in the “wait-and-watch” mould.

The Indian Foreign Secretary held a Press briefing at a hotel here this evening which was attended by scores of Pakistani journalists, apart from Indian media.

In response to a question from this correspondent, the Foreign Secretary said the two sides did discuss the proposed visit by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to Pakistan the invitation for which has already been accepted by Dr Manmohan Singh, but no specific dates of the visit came up for discussion.

An important highlight of the day’s proceedings was the two countries’ Foreign Secretaries signing an agreement on pre-notification of flight testing of ballistic missiles, aimed at preventing misunderstandings and misinterpretations and promoting a stable environment of peace and security between the two countries.

Under the agreement, each party will provide to the other party advance notification of the flight test that it intends to undertake of any land or sea-launched, surface-to-surface ballistic missile. It also provides for the following:

  • Each party will notify the other party, no less than three days in advance of the commencement of a five-day launch window within which it intends to undertake flight tests of any land or sea-launched, surface-to-surface ballistic missile.
  • Each party will ensure that the test launch site does not fall within 40 km, and the planned impact area does not fall within 75 km, of the International Boundary or the Line of Control on the side of the party planning to flight test the ballistic missile.
  • Each party will ensure that the planned trajectory of the ballistic missile being flight-tested will not cross the International Boundary or the LoC and will maintain a horizontal distance of at least 40 km from the IB and the LoC.


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