Nirupama Subramanian

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan said on Thursday that finalising the date and venue for a meeting of the Foreign Secretaries, as decided upon during the Manmohan-Zardari meeting in Russia, was a “work in progress.”

Foreign Office spokesman Abdul Basit told journalists at a weekly briefing that the two sides were discussing when and where the two officials would meet.

But hinting at difficulties, the spokesman said, “Talks are not a favour by one country to another.”

The Foreign Secretaries are supposed to meet before the mid-July NAM summit in Egypt, at which Prime Minister Manmohan Singh will once again meet the top Pakistani leadership on the sidelines — this time Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani in all likelihood.

But India and Pakistan have vastly different expectations from the Foreign Secretaries talks, and this may be one reason why the two sides have not been able to set a date for this meeting, although there are still three weeks to go before the NAM summit.

India has said the two officials will meet to discuss steps taken by Pakistan to address New Delhi’s concerns on terrorism, including the 2008 Mumbai terror attacks, and underlined that it is not to be seen as the resumption of the stalled composite dialogue process.

Pakistan, on the other hand, says they must discuss “all issues,” including an early resumption of the composite dialogue process.

There are concerns in the Pakistan establishment that India is trying to impose a new model of engagement, with terrorism as the central subject.

Observers believe that Pakistan must, on no account, agree to any talks that will deal only with this issue.

A meeting earlier this week between Pakistan High Commissioner Shahid Malik and Foreign Secretary Shiv Shankar Menon was reported in a section of the Pakistani press as having “failed” to produce a date for the Foreign Secretaries talks. The envoy is now in the Pakistani capital for discussions with the government.

Pakistan is stressing the value of the composite dialogue process at every opportunity. On Thursday, the spokesman said it was in the mutual interest of both countries. “[The composite dialogue] is also unavoidable should our two countries desire stability and lasting peace in the region. So India’s aversion to the resumption of the composite dialogue process is incomprehensible. Especially when they know that Pakistan is moving in the matter of the Mumbai attacks with sincerity, methodically and comprehensively.”

U.S. role sought

Mr. Gilani has urged the U.S. to play a role in the resolution of the Kashmir and water-sharing issues with India, saying this would help Pakistan focus on fighting extremism and terrorism .

He was talking to U.S. National Security Adviser General James Jones, who called on him .

He renewed his appeal to Sthe U.S. to write off debts owed by Pakistan. A release from the Prime Minister’s office said this would “help in overcoming immediate economic difficulties and make up for the economic losses it has suffered as a frontline state in the fight against terrorism.”

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