M A I N   N E W S

PoW kin welcome: Pervez
‘I am a soldier and I can understand their feelings’
Anita Katyal
Tribune News Service

Islamabad, January 13
India and Pakistan today mutually agreed on a series of concrete measures which will further boost the ongoing peace process and help the two countries in sorting out their longstanding differences.

In a grand, spontaneous gesture, Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf today offered that families of prisoners of war (PoWs) would be allowed to travel to the country to locate their family members. "Let them come and see for themselves… I am a soldier and I can understand their feelings," he declared when India's External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee drew his attention to the concerns of the families of Indian prisoners of the 1965 and 1971 wars, who are languishing in Pakistani prisons, during their 70-minute meeting today.

Following up on Mr Musharraf's offer, India said it would set up a committee to facilitate the travel plans of the families of 74 prisoners of war who, they said, still were in Pakistani prisons.

In another move forward, the two sides agreed that the first meeting of the joint anti-terrorism mechanism, which was set up last November, will have its first meeting before March-end. Focusing on the contentious issue of prisoners, the two sides decided to set up a committee of retired judges who would visit jails in the two countries and propose steps on their humane treatment and work for the expeditious release of those prisoners who have completed their terms.

These decisions were announced after exhaustive discussions between Pranab and Pervez and Foreign Minister Khurshid Mahmood Kasuri, today which covered a whole gamut of bilateral issues, including terrorism, Kashmir, Siachen, Sir Creek and visa agreements.

Mr Mukherjee arrived here today on a two-day visit primarily to invite Pakistani Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz for the 14th SAARC summit being held in Delhi in April but used this opportunity to have hold indepth discussions with the leadership here.

Clearly indicating their intention to work together in resolving their differences, Mr Kasuri accepted Mr Mukherjee's invitation to attend the next meeting of the Indo-Pak Joint Commission next month. Set up in 1983, this commission which looks at areas of mutual concern, has met only four times, the last time being in October, 2005. The fourth round of dialogue, which was last held in November, has now been slated for March 13 and 14.

In addition, New Delhi and Islamabad also agreed to complete work on the liberalisation of the restrictive visa regime by February and, to begin with, decided that Paksitani diplomats will be allowed to visit Noida and Gurgoan while their counterparts here will be able to travel to Taxila and Hasanabdal.

With regards to Sir Creek and Siachen, Mr Mukherjee said the officials concerned would be directed expedite their work, stating that the joint survey for Sir Creek was to begin by January 15.

The two countries also decided that various agreements which are close to finalisation would be concluded during Mr Kasuri's February visit.

Addressing a joint press conference after their extensive discussions, Mr Kasuri remained positive on Siahcen, saying that if there was a political will, the matter could be resolved ''within days", adding that they would find ways of meeting India's concerns.

He said Pakistan Foreign Secretary Riaz Mohammad Khan had presented a ''detailed plan, a package” of proposals to India last November during his talks with his counterpart Shivshankar Menon.

India has also been positive on moving ahead on the contentious Siachen issue after they received indications from Islamabad that it will be prepared to authenticate the present positions of their troops.

While agreeing that their talks today had been productive and fruitful, Mr Kasuri and Mr Mukherjee were careful not to say anything which would spoil the atmospherics. Both held out the assurance that the joint terror mechanism would be made effective as they agreed that terrorism was the biggest menace in the post cold-war era.

Mr Mukherjee responded cautiously when asked if India still believed that the ISI was responsible for terrorism in Kashmir, stating that, "We are aware of the involvement of certain agencies and have brought it to the notice of the appropriate authorities."

Mr Kasuri was equally optimistic on Kashmir when he remarked that the two countries had never had such a sustained dialogue on Kashmir as they were having at present. Mr Mukehrjee, on his part, remained non-committal on President Musharraf's fresh proposals on Kashmir and instead merely reiterated Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's Amristar statement that India would be willing to examine any idea which helped in the resolution of the Kashmir problem.



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