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India, Pak to discuss outstanding issues

Thimphu: With the dialogue process back on track, India and Pakistan will have a series of interactions to discuss outstanding issues like Jammu and Kashmir, terrorism and Siachen over the next few months before Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi visits New Delhi in the middle of this year.

Foreign Secretary Nirupama Rao, who held the path-breaking talks with her Pakistani counterpart Salman Bashir here on Sunday, said the two countries were in the process of bridging the "trust deficit" and appealed that the process of re-engagement should not be "killed" by anybody through any statement or action. "Let it breathe," she said.

"For the next few months, things are not going to remain dormant. There will be activity… There will be a lot of activity, lot of interaction that had in a sense been put in abeyance for many months now. The intention from both sides is to resume that process," Rao told reporters here on the margins of a SAARC conference.

She identified the issues that would be discussed between departments concerned on both sides as Jammu and Kashmir, Peace and Security, terrorism, narcotics trafficking, Sir Creek, Siachen, trade, promotion of people-to-people contacts and cross-LoC trade.

"There are issues to be discussed and when you say all outstanding issues are to be discussed, obviously, you have to discuss all outstanding issues and who discusses these issues — a number of stake-holders, a number of government departments. It will be a comprehensive exercise," she said.

Rao was asked whether it would mean resumption of the Composite Dialogue, that was halted by India after the 2008 Mumbai attacks, as all the issues named were being discussed by departments concerned under that process. "I don`t want to get stuck in terminology. What is in a name," she responded, citing the famous quotation of Shakespeare.

To a question, she said the issue of Jammu and Kashmir and Peace and Security would be discussed at the level of Foreign Secretaries. Significantly, the same was the case under the Composite Dialogue.

Rao said the various identified issues would be discussed over the next few months in a sequence which she refused to specify.

"It is a ladder, we have to climb. There will be a sequence. Obviously, it will have to be a sequence. The things which need to be done quickly, will be done first. The things which need more preparation will be done a little later. But we hope to have all this well in place before the visit of Foreign Minister Qureshi (to Delhi)," she said.

Before Qureshi`s visit expected in the middle of the year, she said, the two sides will have to build the "right atmosphere" and "more confidence."

On Qureshi`s oft-repeated contention that he did not want to visit India just for the sake of "photo-ops," Rao agreed and said even India did not want so as there was more to it in the India-Pakistan relationship.

"Obviously, Indo-Pak relations are not about photo-opportunity. It is about real hard issues which need to be discussed. Let`s not have any illusion either. We should not be assuming that we have resolved everything and everything is fine," she said.

She emphasised that it would take time for issues between the two countries to be resolved and counseled patience, saying the dialogue process is going to be "a long one" and the difficulties should not be "under-estimated."

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