Describing his upcoming meeting with his Indian counterpart S.M. Krishna as “a very important step forward” in bilateral ties, Pakistan Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi, nevertheless, warned on Tuesday that both sides would have to contend with elements that could try to “scuttle” the peace process.
Mr. Qureshi, who will hold talks with External Affairs Minister Mr. Krishna in the Pakistani capital on July 15, hoped the trust deficit between the two sides would be bridged during the parleys but cautioned against expecting “quick-fix” solutions to outstanding issues.
The forthcoming meeting with Mr. Krishna would be “a very important engagement and a very important step forward in our bilateral relations,” he told a news conference in the Foreign Office here.
At the same time, Mr. Qureshi said the two countries would have to be vigilant against elements opposed to the peace process.
Asked about the challenges to normalising bilateral ties, he said, “the challenges are that there can always be an element that could try and scuttle the process.”
Referring to the Mumbai attacks, he said: “When we meet, we will have to sit and resolve that we will not allow acts of terrorism to impede the process. This process is a valuable process and we should build it to a level that it becomes irreversible.”
“Trust deficit will be bridged by talks during which we will discuss outstanding issues,” Mr. Qureshi told a news conference after his 25-minute telephonic conversation with Mr. Krishna.
He acknowledged that the normalisation of bilateral ties would not be an easy task.
“I will not create any false hopes, I am an optimist and yet I am a realist. I recognise the challenges and I recognise the difficulties. I recognise the trust deficit that exists. It’s an uphill task. Don’t expect miracles overnight,” he said in response to a query on his expectations from the talks.
“But the good thing is today on both sides, we have democracies and democracies believe in negotiations, talks and parleys. And that’s a healthy sign,” he added.
Mr. Qureshi said he and Mr. Krishna had “a good discussion and we will build it from here, recognising the challenges, recognising the fact that it isn’t going to be easy, recognising the fact that there are no quick fixes but the sincerity is there.”
The Pakistan Foreign Minister evaded a question on whether the two sides had come close to a solution to the Siachen and Sir Creek issues during the earlier dialogue process and said he would give his views when he sat at the negotiating table.
Mr. Qureshi made it clear that the two sides were going into the talks with an open mind and a positive approach without having any false hopes.
Prior to the meeting between the Foreign Ministers, Home Minister P. Chidambaram will visit Islamabad on June 26 for a conference of SAARC Interior Ministers.
He will be accompanied by Foreign Secretary Nirupama Rao, who will meet her Pakistani counterpart Salman Bashir to finalise modalities and the agenda for the talks between Mr. Qureshi and Mr. Krishna.
Mr. Qureshi said he would also visit Delhi after his meeting here with Krishna for the next round of talks.
He said he had begun consultations with the civil and military leadership to forge national consensus on resolving outstanding issues with India.
Mr. Qureshi on Monday met a group of former Pakistani Foreign Ministers, Foreign Secretaries and ambassadors who served in Delhi.
He also held a separate meeting with Pakistan’s Indus Waters Commissioner Jamaat Ali Shah.
He said he would be seeking guidance from President Asif Ali Zardari and Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani on the substantive issues.
Mr. Qureshi said he also consulted national security institutions on Monday night.
Sources told PTI that Mr. Qureshi had on Monday gone to the General Headquarters in Rawalpindi, where he held consultations with Army chief Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani and ISI chief Lt. Gen. Ahmed Shuja Pasha.
The sources also described Mr. Qureshi’s conversation with Mr. Krishna as “very positive.”
Mr. Qureshi evaded a direct reply to several questions on the structure of the upcoming dialogue and only said that all issues of concern to both sides would be on the table.
He indicated that among the issues of concern to Pakistan were the unrest in Balochistan and differences over sharing of river waters.
Mr. Qureshi said he was “presuming that both sides are comfortable with the structure in place. There can always be improvement but there is satisfaction. Both sides acknowledge the fact that the structure in place has given us incremental progress.”
He added: “For example, water is a serious issue for Pakistan. The composite dialogue includes the Wullar barrage but that is suspended...The water problem is bigger than that.
“We have to seriously talk about water and we have a mechanism for resolving issues in the Indus Waters Treaty that both sides recognise,” he said.
Replying to a question on terrorism, Mr. Qureshi said: “You’ve got to recognise that terrorism is an issue that has affected India and Pakistan. We are both victims, they have suffered casualties and so have we suffered casualties.
“In my view, the best way of tackling this issue is through mutual understanding and cooperation.”
Though the two countries have a Joint Anti-Terror Mechanism, Pakistan would have an “open mind” if India proposed steps to strengthen it, he said.
Mr. Qureshi said the approach of Prime Ministers Manmohan Singh and Mr. Gilani was “very productive” and their interaction in Thimphu on the sidelines of the SAARC summit last month was "frank, cordial and forward looking”.