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Menon says dialogue process is under strain

Treading a difficult path: Foreign Secretary Shiv Shankar Menon (left) with his Pakistan counterpart Salman Bashir, prior to their meeting at the Hyderabad House, in New Delhi on Monday.

Treading a difficult path: Foreign Secretary Shiv Shankar Menon (left) with his Pakistan counterpart Salman Bashir, prior to their meeting at the Hyderabad House, in New Delhi on Monday.   | Photo Credit: — Photo: V. Sudershan

Special Correspondent

“Probe into Kabul blast shows the hand of Pakistan elements”

NEW DELHI: Foreign Secretary Shiv Shankar Menon on Monday said the ongoing investigations into the recent Kabul embassy blast had revealed the hand of “elements in Pakistan.”

Speaking to newsmen after meeting his Pakistani counterpart Salman Bashir here, Mr. Menon said the dialogue process had come “under strain” because in the “recent past several events have vitiated ties” and some of the leaders in Pakistan had reverted to the “old polemics.”

“This sequence of events culminated in July 7 [Kabul embassy blast]. All our information in the ongoing investigation, which still has to continue, points to elements in Pakistan behind the blast.” He described the ceasefire as “under stress” but both sides agreed that it must be “maintained and continued.”

Interacting with the media later in the evening, Mr. Bashir said his Indian counterpart had not given any evidence and described the charge of Pakistani hand in the embassy blast as “baseless” and “made first elsewhere” (he later said it was made by National Security Adviser M. K. Narayanan).

Mr. Bashir cautioned against treating Islamabad as “on probation” since “we don’t have to prove our credentials to anybody. Pakistan is not the epicentre of terrorism. Please understand that.”

The Foreign Secretary-level meeting and delegation-level talks were preceded by a phone conversation between External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee and his Pakistani counterpart Riaz Mohammad Khan on Sunday evening. Both discussed the state of bilateral relations with Mr. Mukherjee calling upon Pakistan to address India’s concerns, according to Mr. Menon.

The two will meet in Colombo during the South Asian Association of Regional Cooperation next month and “carry the dialogue forward,” he added.

Amidst these statements, both sides reiterated the need to keep talking to each other on the outstanding issues with Mr. Menon acknowledging that meetings between both sides gave them the opportunity to have “frank discussions on how we can deal with this.” Mr. Bashir assured India that Pakistan was committed to “positive constructive engagements that will lead to good results.”

Asked about Mr. Menon’s accusation of Pakistani elements being behind the blast, Mr. Bashir said there had been incidents on Pakistani territory which give Islamabad “enough reason to cry wolf.” Though Pakistan was “determined” to fill gaps in perception, the allegation about the Kabul blast was “most disappointing” and “I am very sad that this is being discussed as a strain.”

He went on to term Mr. Menon’s observations a “breach of gentleman’s agreement not to air their concerns in public” and said Pakistan was “second to none” in “cooperating with all.” Instead, both sides should utilise the existing mechanisms to clear misunderstandings and if they were not working, “it is in our capacity to make them work.”

The interaction saw the two sides make progress on enhancing people-to-people contacts, easing visa and permit issue norms and stepping up bilateral trade. The frequency of two bus services across the Line of Control would be weekly from next month instead of fortnightly, across-LoC permits will be valid for three visits from October and steps have been initiated to reduce the processing time for applications.

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