Nirupama Subramanian

  • Anti-terror mechanism high on agenda
  • Sees "substantive talks" on Kashmir, Siachen

    ISLAMABAD: Pakistan is upbeat about the forthcoming foreign secretaries talks with India and is confident that it will be a "productive" meeting, with the possibility of an agreement on new military confidence-building measures, and "substantive" talks on Kashmir and Siachen.

    Discussions on setting up the proposed institutional mechanism against terrorism are a main item on the agenda, and Pakistan is already said to be conducting in-house deliberations on it.

    Foreign Minister Khurshid Mahmood Kasuri said last week that Pakistan would propose that an additional secretary from the foreign ministries of both countries head the mechanism, with representation from intelligence agencies on both sides. But officials said the final shape about the mechanism would emerge only at the November 13-15 talks between the foreign secretaries.

    Indian foreign secretary Shiv Shankar Menon and his Pakistan counterpart Riaz Mohammed Khan will also review the third round of the composite dialogue process that ended in June 2006, discussing all six groups of issues that it covers including Kashmir.

    `Announcement likely'

    Officials said an announcement was likely under "peace and security," a category that deals with setting in place nuclear and conventional military confidence-building measures. Under the format of secretary-level talks for each category in the composite dialogue process, peace and security and Jammu and Kashmir are the responsibility of the foreign secretaries.

    A positive outcome on conventional confidence building measures may flow out of an April 2006 meeting during which experts from both sides mandated by the foreign secretaries discussed a draft agreement from Pakistan "on the Prevention of Incidents at Sea in order to ensure safety of navigation by naval vessels and aircraft."

    The two sides also agreed at that meeting to reduce the possibility of future conflicts by finalising Border Ground Rules along the international border. They also agreed on a hotline between the Indian Coast Guard and the Maritime Security Agency of Pakistan for surveillance at sea. The foreign secretaries may finalise these agreements.

    Humanitarian issue

    Pakistan also wants to take up the humanitarian issue of people from both countries languishing in each other's jails for what officials said were "minor" offences such as overstaying, or trespassing in each other's territory.

    Although, agreements exist to treat such prisoners "humanely" the most recent one was between the two home secretaries in May 2006 the very fact they have to be arrived at again and again indicate poor implementation.

    In Pakistan, there has been a media spotlight on the obvious mental disorientation of almost each of its nationals freed after spending some years in Indian jails. Pakistan would like a "clean-slate" agreement, through which all prisoners not accused of a heinous offence are let off under a general amnesty. At present, India has 600 nationals in Pakistani jails, a majority of them fishermen. Pakistan has around 500 nationals in Indian jails.

    The last ritual exchange of prisoners, 38 Pakistanis and 39 Indians, took place on July 1, 2006. Television footage showed emaciated, lost-looking men, some very old, some very young, barely able to understand their sudden freedom and all the media fuss.

    Back channel diplomacy

    Officials are also hopeful that the two foreign secretaries will hold "substantive" discussions on Kashmir. President Pervez Musharraf confirmed earlier this month that back channel diplomacy on Kashmir was active. Pakistan believes that India is "no longer wooden-headed" about the issue.

    "There is an admission in India that Kashmir is an issue and that it has to be dealt with. On how to break out of the logjam, there are no easy solutions but deliberations are going on," one official said.