India-Pakistan could hold Prime Minister-level talks on sidelines of the SAARC summit

While the possibility of India and Pakistan holding substantial discussions in Washington next week is bleak, officials here said the two sides could hold Prime Minister-level discussions in Bhutan on the sidelines of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) summit towards the end of this month.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and his Pakistani counterpart Syed Yousuf Raza Gilani would be spending two days in Thimphu and despite the absence of any breakthrough during the Foreign Secretary-level talks on February 24, the chances of the two leaders holding discussions on reopening bilateral dialogue on a number of issues are high, highly placed officials said.

Following the February 24 talks held here, the assessment is that that both Foreign Offices stuck to their agendas. India did not accept the Pakistani roadmap for improving bilateral ties which envisaged a meeting between the Foreign Ministers in Islamabad followed by the summit meeting in Thimphu. Officials said, at the current juncture, it was felt not much would be gained by restarting the composite dialogue.

India wants Pakistan to show sufficient resolve to curb anti-India statements by leaders of militant organisations and speed up the prosecution of those involved in the November 2008 Mumbai attacks. Pakistan, they feel, has so far shown no signs of controlling the activities of leaders of several organisations who of late “have started crawling out of the woodwork” to make anti-India observations.

Officials are of the opinion that resuming the dialogue, according to the Pakistani template, would mean resuming the Fifth Round of the Composite Dialogue under which main topics of concern to India — peace and security, confidence building measures and terrorism — were covered when the Mumbai attacks took place and the dialogue process was frozen. “If we go along with what they want, it means starting with Tulbul [barrage] and other water issues. The main topics have already been covered by the Foreign and the Home Secretaries during the first two rounds of the composite dialogue. Are we ready for that.” asked an official.

Although Pakistan has started prosecuting those accused in the Mumbai terror attacks, officials feel the pace of the trial is too slow. While the defence tends to come up with procedural objections, New Delhi feels Islamabad should encourage the speeding up of the case, especially in view of the fact that the prosecution has lined up a large number of witnesses.

Officials refute the charge that India is against normalisation of relations and point out the difference in approach on the two occasions when dialogue was cut off. The High Commissioner was recalled, people-to-people ties snapped and the armed forces mobilised on the borders after the attack on Parliament in December 2001. On the other hand, bilateral dialogue was the only casualty after the Mumbai attacks which indicates that India is open to resuming normal ties on the diplomatic-level, provided the issue of terrorism being directed from the Pakistani soil is addressed to its satisfaction, they added.0