Diplomatic Correspondent

"Take steps to avert arms race in region"

NEW DELHI: Pakistan has suggested that South Asia be declared an "anti-ballistic missile free zone," the Pakistan Foreign Office spokeswoman said after talks between Indian and Pakistani Foreign Secretaries Shyam Saran and Riaz Muhammad Khan on Tuesday.

She told this correspondent that the two sides should take measures to avoid an arms race in the region. As a follow-up to the February 1999 memorandum of understanding, Pakistan proposed that an agreement be concluded to prevent incidents at sea.

The proposals made by Pakistan largely fit into Islamabad's idea of a "strategic restraint regime," first suggested by Islamabad during the composite dialogue held between the Foreign Secretaries back in October 1998.

Civilian prisoners

Referring to the framework on dealing with the issue of civilian prisoners, the spokeswoman called for a similar agreement to deal with the issue of civilians who inadvertently strayed across the border.

She said there were "grounds for satisfaction" when you looked at the progress made during the second round of talks in the composite dialogue process between India and Pakistan.

Briefing presspersons, the Indian External Affairs Ministry spokesman said that after making a "very positive assessment" of the previous round of the composite dialogue, the Foreign Secretaries looked forward to an "even more productive" third round of talks.

Pointing out that the two sides had been able to build up confidence and reduce the trust deficit, the spokesman said that many more people were travelling between India and Pakistan.

A schedule for holding discussions on the remaining six issues on the composite dialogue had been exchanged and a "final picture" would be available on Wednesday.

The new hotline between the Foreign Secretaries was working well and Mr. Saran had used it to call Mr. Khan to check if Indians in Islamabad were all right after the October 8 earthquake.