India-Pak Foreign Secretaries to meet in Bhutan

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Islamabad: The Foreign Secretaries of India and Pakistan will meet on the sidelines of SAARC Council of Ministers meeting in Bhutan early next month to explore ways to take forward the stalled peace process.

Pakistan will decide on accepting India’s standing invitation for Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi to visit New Delhi after assessing the outcome of the meeting of the Foreign Secretaries in Thimphu in February, sources in the Pakistan government told PTI.

In a brief statement issued this afternoon, Foreign Office spokesman Abdul Basit said the Foreign Secretaries will meet on the margins of the SAARC Standing Committee meeting scheduled to take place in Thimphu” during February 6-7. The statement did not give any other details.

The sources said Pakistan had decided to accept an Indian proposal for talks between the Foreign Secretaries on the sidelines of the meeting of Foreign Ministers of SAARC countries.

Foreign Minister Qureshi, who was invited to New Delhi by his Indian counterpart S M Krishna in July last year, has said he will go ahead with the visit only if it results in “substantial, meaningful and result-oriented talks.”

The visit was originally scheduled for November last year but was put off due to the ongoing chill in bilateral ties. Foreign Office spokesman Basit told the media on Friday that Pakistan is willing to engage in talks with India but an agenda should first be chalked out by the Foreign Secretaries.

India suspended the composite dialogue process in the wake of the Mumbai terror attacks in November 2008.

The terrorist assault on India’s financial hub was blamed on Pakistan-based Lashker-e-Taiba and its front, Jamaat-ud-Dawah.

Since then, India has linked the resumption of the peace process to Pakistan taking action against the perpetrators of the Mumbai attacks and dismantling terrorist infrastructure based on its soil.

The upcoming meeting of the two Foreign Secretaries will be the first one since September last year, when they met in New York on the margins of the UN General Assembly session but were unable to make any headway in their talks.

Pakistan has been insisting on a roadmap for future engagements on issues like the Kashmir issue, the military stand-off on the Siachen glacier and differences on the sharing of river waters.

India has indicated it favours a phased approach, with terrorism being among the top priorities. During a news conference on Friday, External Affairs Minister Krishna renewed his invitation for Mr. Qureshi to visit New Delhi.

The two Foreign Ministers last met in Islamabad in July last year but their talks ended inconclusively.

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