Amit Baruah

Priority to be given to Havana agenda

NEW DELHI: The Foreign Secretaries of India and Pakistan, Shivshankar Menon and Riaz Muhammad Khan, during their November 14-15 discussions here, are expected to focus on the agenda points agreed on by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf in Havana in September.

Though the meeting is very much part and parcel of the composite dialogue process, South Block officials told this correspondent on Thursday that the Havana agenda would be given priority.

From India's standpoint, the creation of an anti-terrorist mechanism, accepted in principle by Dr. Singh and Gen. Musharraf last month, will be central to the discussions to be held between Mr. Menon and Mr. Khan.

The September 16 Havana joint statement, which strongly condemned all acts of terrorism in the aftermath of the Mumbai blasts, said that the leaders had "decided to put in place an India-Pakistan anti-terrorism institutional mechanism to identify and implement counter-terrorism initiatives and investigations."

Interestingly, the Havana statement also asked the Foreign Secretaries to "arrange consultations" for an "early solution" to the Siachen issue. Clearly, Dr. Singh and Gen. Musharraf have decided to give priority to resolving the Siachen issue, which is one of the eight items India and Pakistan have been discussing as part of their composite dialogue process.

The reference to arranging consultations on the Siachen issue is a bit odd because the Defence Secretaries of the two countries have already been discussing the matter. However, the progress has been slow and Siachen, along with the Sir Creek issue, also on the composite dialogue agenda, are considered relatively easier matters to resolve.

When asked what this reference on Siachen meant, the officials stressed that these matters would be up for discussion in the meeting of the Foreign Secretaries.

It is expected that a visit by Dr. Singh, which is on the cards, will happen at a time when officials can provide some "deliverables," including an agreed pullout of troops from the Siachen glacier.

Apart from Siachen and Sir Creek, the Foreign Secretaries were also tasked by their leaders in Havana to facilitate implementation of agreements and understandings already reached on Line of Control-related confidence-building measures, including bus services, crossing points and a cross-LoC truck service.

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