Nirupama Subramanian

ISLAMABAD: India and Pakistan are looking to the expected meeting between Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Pakistan’s new President Asif Ali Zardari on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly at New York later this month to relaunch their stalled peace process, officials said.

The foreign secretaries of the two countries inaugurated the fifth round of the “composite dialogue” process in July, but it has not moved since then.

New Delhi has been silent on dates for the meetings of the various subjects that the process covers through secretary-level talks as an expression of its anger over the Indian Embassy blast at Kabul, in which four Indians, including a senior diplomat and the defence adviser, were among the 60 killed.

The New York Times, which said in July that the Pakistan Prime Minister had been shown evidence of the involvement of the country’s Inter-Services Intelligence in the attack, reported again on Friday that it was carried out by militants aided by the ISI. It added that top military officials, including Army chief Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayanai, knew of it.

At a meeting between Dr. Singh and Pakistan Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani on the sidelines of the July-end Colombo SAARC summit, India conveyed to Pakistan that it “cannot be business as usual,” and sought “assurances” that the Pakistan government would deal with “elements” it held responsible for the Kabul attack, as well as those behind the increasing violations in the ceasefire along the LoC. It also wanted the slack to banned militant groups cut.

Indian officials are unwilling to specify what assurance from Pakistan could satisfy New Delhi, but maintain that there must be “some response” from Pakistan to its concerns.

So far, there has been nothing from the Pakistan side. A senior Pakistan Foreign Ministry official told The Hindu that India’s position on the Kabul attack was “a big hoax”, and that the peace process could not be held hostage to it.

Islamabad has proposed several sets of dates for the composite dialogue process but New Delhi has so far responded with a stony silence, even though the two countries are otherwise engaged in efforts to open the Line of Control for intra-Kashmir trade.

At their meeting in July, Indian Foreign Secretary Shiv Shankar Menon and his Pakistan counterpart Salman Bashir began the fifth round with talks on “Kashmir and peace and security,” the subject in the composite dialogue process for which they have responsibility, but for talks on the other seven subjects, there is no calendar yet.

Even the Indian side is beginning to realise that its silence may become untenable if it continues indefinitely, and sees a Manmohan-Zardari meeting as providing an opportunity to restart the dialogue.

Mr. Zardari announced at his first press conference after being sworn in as President that he would be attending the UN Assembly. Indian officials here said a meeting between him and Dr. Singh was “natural”.

New Delhi is keen to see if Mr. Zardari’s emphasis on trade diplomacy with India, which he has talked about often, will translate into a change in policy on the ground. In an interview to the Jang newspaper group on Friday, the new President, who promised “good news on Kashmir immediately after his inauguration, said he was hopeful of a breakthrough “soon” on two issues – Siachen and Sir Creek – that Pakistan believes are relatively simple to resolve.

He also said that he did not believe in “secret diplomacy” – possibly a reference to the widely held view that “only five” people in the Musharraf regime were privy to the India-Pakistan talks – and promised that “all possible solutions to Kashmir will be discussed first by the parliamentary committee on Kashmir and then the final solution will be approved by Parliament.”

Separately, Prime Minister Gilani said on Friday that Kashmiris “should be an integral component” of the ongoing peace process, as they were “the primary stakeholders.”

Addressing the “Azad Jammu and Kashmir” council, the territory’s upper house, Mr. Gilani said the recent unrest and violence in Kashmir was “a matter of great concern” for Pakistan.

“The government of Pakistan has condemned the excessive use of force by the Indian security forces against the people of Kashmir which led to the shahadat (martyrdom) of several Kashmiris,” he said, making a reference to the killing of Sheikh Abdul Aziz, a separatist leader.

Mr. Gilani said it was “regrettable” that the UN resolutions on Jammu and Kashmir had never been implemented.

“For its part, Pakistan continues to firmly support their inalienable right of self-determination of the Kashmiri people and seeks a solution to this dispute in accordance with the aspirations of the people of Kashmir,” he said, adding that the Kashmir dispute remained “close to the heart of every Pakistani.”

“The future of both Pakistan and Kashmir is intertwined with shared destinies,” he said.

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