No decision on resuming cricket ties, although sporting contacts “may be'' encouraged

While cricket matches are not on the immediate agenda, India and Pakistan have chalked out a busy month ahead to pick up the threads of the comprehensive dialogue that was suspended after the late-2008 Mumbai attacks.

The Commerce Secretary-level talks in Islamabad next week will be followed by a meeting between the Water Resources Secretaries on the Wullar Barrage\Tulbul navigation project in May.

Next, the Surveyors General of the two countries will resume discussions on resolving the Sir Creek dispute. Although the Science and Technology Secretary is yet to confirm the dates, the meeting will be held in Islamabad.

A meeting on Siachen between the Defence Secretaries is likely to be the fourth in the series . And, as a follow-up to the Home Secretaries' meeting, the Director General of the Narcotics Control Board will meet his Pakistani counterpart next month.

The two sides have tentatively decided to schedule a meeting between the Foreign Secretaries in early June.

But with the Defence Secretary meeting having to be shifted and no confirmation on the Sir Creek dates, this wrap-up meeting, which will also discuss Jammu and Kashmir and confidence-building measures, might be pushed back by a few days, said sources in the government.

“We are intent on taking small steps at a time,'' they stated.

India is still unhappy with Pakistan's slow pace in prosecuting those held for their involvement in the 2008 Mumbai attacks.

The trial began in November 2009 with seven arrested and 20 declared proclaimed offenders. Since then, judges and prosecutors have changed several times, slowing the pace of the trial.

New Delhi hopes this would change with the recent agreement to allow a Pakistani judicial commission to visit India.

At the recent Home Secretary-level talks, Islamabad also agreed to allow an Indian judicial commission to visit Pakistan. “But we have to decide when that visit will take place. We haven't decided so far,'' said the sources.

But officials said both sides were committed to exercising restraint in commenting on each other's statements.

“You can call it the Mohali [meeting between the two Prime Ministers] spirit, but the resolve to maintain a positive environment started from Thimphu in February this year [meeting between the Foreign Secretaries],'' they said.

It is in line with this thinking that both sides might segregate the cases of arrested fishermen from those held for other offences. Considering that fishermen are illiterate and, lured by the possibility of a better catch, transgress imaginary maritime boundaries, the two countries are thinking of evolving a mechanism in which first time offenders would be let off at sea itself, said other sources.

On resuming cricketing ties, a hot topic of discussion in the media that compelled Foreign Secretary Nirupama Rao to tweet, the government sources said the issue was not as simple as the Indian team packing its gear and crossing the border.

“The Board of Control for Cricket in India will have to decide the possibility of sending a team keeping in mind their crowded calendar. Then there is the issue of security which, Pakistan as the host country, has to guarantee. In principle, there is no disagreement,'' they said.

Ms. Rao tried to douse speculation about “resumption” of cricket ties with Pakistan by “clarifying'' that no such decision was taken, although sporting contacts “may be'' encouraged.

“Sporting contacts between India and Pakistan, bar cricket, have been taking place. These can be encouraged further. Hope I am clear,'' she said to a follow-up query.

A day earlier, External Affairs Minister S.M. Krishna set out the parameters: “With Pakistan, we have pursued the path of dialogue to reduce the trust deficit and to resolve all outstanding issues in a spirit of openness. At the same time, we have never abandoned our concerns about the need to eliminate cross-border terrorism. ‘'