Pakistan and India on Thursday opened the two-day peace talks between the foreign secretaries of the two countries in Islamabad with both sides vowing to carry out talks responsibly and constructively as they began discussions aiming to stabilise South Asia as thousands of US troops prepare to leave Afghanistan.
The focus of the discussions between Foreign Secretary Salman Bashir and his Indian counterpart Nirupama Rao was on peace and security issues, including nuclear-related matters.
“The talks were substantive, constructive and forthcoming,” said Pakistan’s Foreign Office spokesperson Tehmina Januja after the conclusion of the first round of parleys.
“Pakistan approaches the dialogue process with India with an acute sense of responsibility to posterity,” Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Hina Rabbani told a joint news conference with visiting British Foreign Secretary William Hague.
She said Pakistan wanted to move forward “to a point where we can talk”.
Indian officials also expressed similar views. However, the two sides didn’t share any further details on the talks. The foreign secretaries will have two more rounds today with one focusing on the Jammu and Kashmir dispute and the other on friendly exchanges.
The talks on the Kashmir dispute, which has been the main source of friction between the two nuclear-armed neighbours for decades, will be the first since the November 2008 Mumbai attacks after which the peace process collapsed between the two countries.
There have been indications that India has emphasised progress in the Mumbai attacks investigations before any discussions on Kashmir take place. However, Pakistan has already made it clear that detailed discussions on terrorism-related issues had already taken place between the two sides when the interior secretaries of the two countries met.
On her arrival in the capital, Indian Foreign Secretary Nirupuma Rao said she had come “with an open mind and a constructive spirit” to work towards building “trust and confidence” that would eventually lead to a normalisation of relations between the nuclear-armed rivals.
Both sides say talks will focus on the fate of the divided Himalayan region of Kashmir, peace and security and confidence building, in preparation for a scheduled visit by Pakistan’s foreign minister to India next month.
“This is an important visit as it marks the penultimate leg of the resumed dialogue process before the visit of the foreign minister of Pakistan to India in July,” she added.
Indian Foreign Minister S M Krishna said this week that Delhi had to be “realistic”, calling for terrorism to be dealt with “firmly and transparently”.
Since then, the two countries had talks at the level of the defence, interior and commerce secretaries. The foreign ministers of the two countries are expected to meet next month in New Delhi to review the progress of the first round of the composite dialogue.
Talks on the disputed glacier of Siachen, where troops have clashed intermittently since 1984, concluded a month ago without progress. “There will be no major breakthrough in the talks but I am sure that the process will now go on to enable the two countries to discuss and sort out issues,” Pakistani foreign policy analyst A H Nayyar told AFP.
Additional input from AFP
Published in The Express Tribune, June 24th, 2011.