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India, Pakistan to hold quarterly flag meetings

Diplomatic Correspondent

Foreign Secretaries exchange views on Jammu and Kashmir in the spirit of Havana joint press statement

Decision on release of fishermen and prisoners "Kashmir has seen focused discussions"

NEW DELHI: At the end of the two-day Foreign Secretary-level talks on Wednesday, India and Pakistan agreed to hold quarterly flag meetings of local Army commanders, besides initialling an agreement on reducing the risks from accidents relating to nuclear weapons.

"They exchanged views on the issue of Jammu and Kashmir in the spirit of the Havana joint press statement [of September 16] to hold purposeful discussions ... they agreed to fully implement measures to enhance interaction and cooperation across the LoC [Line of Control], including the early operationalisation of [a] truck service for trade on agreed items," a joint statement said.

It was decided that "all fishermen and prisoners" of the "other country," whose national status stands confirmed and who have completed their sentences, would be released by December 25.

"They [Foreign Secretaries] also agreed to promote friendly exchanges. They agreed on the need for early finalisation of an updated visa agreement. In addition, it was agreed to expand the list of shrines under the 1974 bilateral protocol on visits to religious shrines," the statement said.

It was also decided that the fourth round of the composite dialogue would take place in February 2007 in Islamabad.

Foreign Secretary Shivshankar Menon told presspersons that more troops could be withdrawn from Jammu and Kashmir if the violence level came down. Troop levels had been reduced in the past but this was related to the security situation on the ground.

Earlier, at a separate briefing, Pakistan Foreign Secretary Riaz Muhammad Khan said the withdrawal of "heavy armed forces" from population centres in Kashmir should be considered. Pakistan, too, was willing to take reciprocal steps.

Mr. Khan felt that never before had the Kashmir issue "seen such focused discussions" as in the three-year period since the peace process resumed. He was hopeful that the issue could be resolved in the conducive international environment that existed.

Siachen issue

On Siachen, he said New Delhi and Islamabad could not make progress if Indian claims had to be endorsed. However, his delegation was leaving behind "certain thoughts" on the issue with the Indian side.

Admitting that there were fears and apprehensions on both sides on Siachen, he turned philosophical, saying the "shadows" depended on the point from where the light was being pointed.

However, Mr. Khan argued that the dispute was "resolvable" and the glacier could be turned into a "mountain of peace" a suggestion first made by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh which could be jointly monitored by both countries.

On his part, Mr. Menon admitted that there were differences of opinion in approaching the issue.

According to him, India's goal in the dialogue process with Pakistan was not just to "normalise" relations, but live as good neighbours. India would keep working towards this goal.

Pranab visit

Mr. Menon said External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee would visit Pakistan but dates for the visit were yet to be finalised. Asked about the visit, Mr. Khan said that though it would be SAARC-related, bilateral issues would come up for discussion. The visit could take place in December or January, he added.

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