Pakistan has lowered its expectations on the proposed talks between its Prime Minister and his Indian counterpart Manmohan Singh later this month in New York and it does not see any major breakthrough coming out of it.
Speaking informally to journalists on Tuesday on the sidelines of a meeting by Pugwash, adviser to the Prime Minister on National Security and Foreign Affairs Sartaj Aziz said the proposed talks slated for September 29 would be useful to revive the composite dialogue and fast track the issues of the working groups.
Mr. Aziz said before the August 6 incident (where five Indian Army soldiers were killed near the Line of Control), there were high expectations over a meeting between Dr. Singh and his Pakistan counterpart Nawaz Sharif. However, the Indian reluctance to talk after the incident has lowered hopes. Mr. Aziz said the talks should focus on reduction in tension on the LoC and a commitment to observe the ceasefire of 2003. It could take forward the technical discussion of the composite dialogue by the seven working groups which could continue till the new government in India assumed office next year.
Mr. Aziz said the position that Kashmir was not a valid issue was untenable, especially since there were troops on both sides of the border. Brushing this issue under the carpet was not an option, he said adding that Kashmir was very much an issue and it was there on the U.N. agenda as well and the wishes of the Kashmiri people were important. This and other issues could also be discussed in back channel talks without the glare of TV cameras and it should bring up different options for a solution. If bilateral talks were not going anywhere, the international community should also wake up to the realities.
To a question, he agreed that Kashmir was central to India-Pakistan talks and back channel negotiations could discuss all options, including the four-point formula for Kashmir.
It may be recalled all General Pervez Musharraf’s four-point formula involved self-governance, demilitarisation, free movement of people and trade between India, Pakistan and the two Kashmirs and joint management of Kashmir.
Mr. Aziz reiterated that as far as the August 6 incident goes, Pakistani forces were not involved and non-State actors could be involved. The Indian Defence Minister had first made a statement on those lines. Pakistan had started an enquiry to see if its troops were involved but they were not, he said.
This would not be the first time people wearing army uniforms have committed terrorist acts — the jail-break at Dera Ismail Khan and the Gilgit killings were perpetrated by men in army uniforms, he said. Every time some non-state actors disturbed the situation, there were ceasefire violations. On August 7, when Directors-General of Military Operations of both nations spoke to each other, the incident was not mentioned — if it was serious why wasn’t it discussed, he asked. It was only on the evening of August 7 that the matter was raised.
On the issue of Hafiz Saeed, he said the demand to hand him to over to India had no serious legal basis and the Pakistan Judicial Commission was investigating the matter. The first time the Commission visited India it was not allowed to cross examine witnesses and the visit was postponed again last week. Mr. Aziz reiterated that the Commission would visit India on September 23 to cross examine witnesses.
On MFN status, he said while it was okayed in principle, the Trade Committee as part of the composite dialogue must meet and address issues like non-tariff barriers, among other things.