In an effort to get bilateral relations moving again, India has offered Pakistan open-ended talks at the level of Foreign Secretary on all outstanding issues affecting peace and security, including counter-terrorism. But though Foreign Secretary Nirupama Rao made the proposal in a telephone call to her counterpart, Salman Bashir, nearly two weeks ago, the Pakistani side has yet to respond, highly placed sources told The Hindu on Thursday.
Sources said the phrase used to describe the contents of the proposed talks was carefully chosen to reflect the broad scope of interaction envisaged for the two Foreign Secretaries in the now-suspended composite dialogue process.
With the political fall-out from Sharm el-Sheikh still fresh in their minds, Indian officials are keen to obviate a pointless debate on whether the composite dialogue — on hold since the November 2008 terrorist attack on Mumbai — is being resumed or not. At the same time, it is clear that what Islamabad is being offered is the prospect of interaction on an agenda that goes well beyond what the two Foreign Secretaries discussed the last time they met in New York in September 2009.
With Pakistani High Commissioner Shahid Malik due to meet Ms. Rao in the next couple of days, Indian officials are hopeful that the proposed talks could get off the ground sooner rather than later. They said that although Ms. Rao had invited Mr. Bashir to come to Delhi, the venue was unimportant and that she could just as easily travel to Islamabad for the first meeting.
Sources told The Hindu this is the second time in three months that India has proposed an official-level meeting. In November, days after Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said Delhi was “ready to discuss” humanitarian and other issues with Islamabad, the Ministry of External Affairs suggested a meeting between its Joint Secretary dealing with Pakistan and the Pakistani Foreign Ministry Director-General dealing with India. But that meeting never took place. Instead, Pakistan, in a unilateral humanitarian gesture, released a number of Indian fishermen who had been arrested for straying into its territorial waters.
Though P. Chidambaram will travel to Pakistan for the SAARC Home Ministers meeting later this month and will also hold talks with his Pakistani counterpart, sources say the proposed Foreign Secretary talks are not tied to the outcome of the Home Minister’s visit.