India and Pakistan are making efforts to address each other’s concerns before their Prime Ministers meet in New York later this month. The sticking point, however, is the killing of soldiers on the Line of Control (LoC). A convergence on this aspect could help interlocutors aim for a Prime Minister-level meeting that yields substantial outcomes.
India wants Pakistan to come clean on two widely publicised instances of Indian soldiers being killed on the LoC in January and August, and put curbs on anti-India statements by Hafiz Saeed, who it holds culpable for the 26/11 Mumbai attacks.
During informal talks, Pakistan took the view that soldiers of both countries were killed and both sides violated ceasefire. Therefore, it contended that need was to further beef up the existing set of conventional confidence building measures. It sought to project the release of over 350 Indian fishermen as a conciliatory signal and wondered why India should not release 50 of its citizens who had completed their sentences in Indian prisons.
Pakistan has also offered a joint investigation to probe the deaths on the LoC, but denied that its army killed five Indian soldiers last month. It also suggested that the U.N. Military Observer Group in India and Pakistan could be called in, but India did not accept it. India, however, does not agree with this stand-alone formulation of violence on the border, pointing out that it is linked to Hafiz Saeed’s attempts to send fighters into the Kashmir Valley. There is a qualitative difference, it says, to firing by the two armies. While the Pakistan army fires to push infiltrators into Kashmir, New Delhi says the Indian Army fires in self-defence or to check the ingress of Pakistani infiltrators. While New Delhi points to the prerequisite of a firm undertaking from Pakistan on ending violence masterminded from its territory in order to ease public pressure, Islamabad— talking of evidence of challenges to making conciliatory gestures towards India without any substantial progress on issues of discord — points to pressure from the Opposition-ruled Sindh province for releasing Indian fishermen.
The arrival of a Pakistani judicial commission later this week to cross examine officials about 26/11 has, for the time being, addressed India’s disquiet about the pace at which Pakistan is probing the attacks.
The case continues to drag on after the last public prosecutor was shot dead. Unlike last time, the commission will be allowed to cross examine the investigating officer, the magistrate who recorded Kasab’s confession and the two doctors who conducted autopsies of the nine dead terrorists.
Publicly, Pakistan has been more outspoken than India on the prospect of a meeting between Dr. Manmohan Singh and Nawaz Sharif in New York. It has been maintaining that Mr. Sharif suggested that the two countries should talk and fight poverty instead of each other.
Last week, Pakistan Foreign Ministry spokesman Aizaz Chaudhry confirmed that back channel talks were on between Satinder Lambah and Shehryar Khan.
On the New York meeting, he said: “As for the meeting [between the Prime Ministers], it has been the position of the Pakistan government that should an opportunity arise, we believe such a contact between the leadership would be a welcome opportunity to discuss all issues that require urgent discussion and to improve relations between the two countries.”