A day after Indian officials acknowledged having asked Pakistan for Foreign Secretary-level talks, Pakistan High Commissioner Shahid Malik met Foreign Secretary Nirupama Rao on Friday evening to clarify the scope of the proposed dialogue and explore convenient dates.
India now awaits a response from the Pakistan side, with Mr. Malik promising to get back soon. At the 45-minute meeting, the two officials discussed “details relevant” to the forthcoming meeting of the Foreign Secretaries, said Vishnu Prakash, spokesman of the Ministry of External Affairs. Addressing journalists, he described the meeting as “positive and constructive.”
In the background, South Block officials said the two sides were looking at the possibility of a meeting in February itself, and that the venue was not an issue. The initiative for reopening the talks, suspended since the Mumbai attacks in November 2008, came from the Indian side, when Ms. Rao called up her Pakistani counterpart Salman Bashir 10 days ago.
Dismissing speculation on either side seeking to restrict the scope of the talks, sources said all issues of interest to both sides could be taken up. But they hoped Pakistan would respond to the “Indian initiative” for talks with an “open and positive mind.”
Emerging from the South Block, Mr. Malik said the meeting was “useful” and the two sides discussed the possible agenda and dates for the talks. Asked whether his government was insisting on the formal resumption of the ‘composite dialogue,’ he said dialogue was the only way forward. “We are not getting into details … There are so many issues in the composite dialogue which are of concern to Pakistan and India,” he said, adding he had heard the Indian side was keen on talking with “an open mind.”
“No one issue”
Pressed by reporters about Pakistan’s desire to focus on Kashmir, Mr. Malik said this was an issue which Islamabad always brought up whenever it had talks with India. But there were many issues which were of concern to both countries, including terrorism. “There is no one issue.”
South Block officials said India did not want to get into “jargon” over how to label the proposed dialogue. What mattered, they said, was that the Indian side was prepared to discuss “all issues of interest.”
According to Pakistani officials, their main concern is that the proposed talks not be “one off,” that there be no ‘stop-start.’ As far as the scope of talks is concerned, even if no reference is made to ‘composite dialogue,’ Islamabad wants the full range of problem areas to be discussed, especially the water issue. The Pakistani side is especially concerned about dams and barrages being built by India, which could affect the flow of river water across the border.