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India willing to talk Kashmir with Pak: Mathai

Washington: India is willing to advance its peace talks with Pakistan and discuss the Kashmir issue, but the main stumbling block is Islamabad`s failure to clamp down on militant groups, Foreign Secretary Ranjan Mathai has said. Mathai, in an interview to `The Wall Street Journal published today, also said that Pakistan`s recent moves, including an agreement to open its markets to Indian goods, was a signal that it was serious about improving ties with India.

Asserting that Pakistan needs to take serious action against militants using its soil to attack India, he said that it was deeply troubling to India that LeT founder Hafiz Saeed, mastermind of the 2008 Mumbai attacks, was able to address public gatherings and appear on television in Pakistan. "If the (Pakistani) army didn`t want Hafiz on TV issuing threats to one and all, they`d be able to do something," Mathai said.

He said Pakistan`s failure to clamp down on militant groups that have attacked India is the major roadblock to peace talks. Mathai said the US decision to put a USD 10 million bounty on Saeed shows that Washington has come around to India`s view about the high level of threat from Pakistan-based militant groups.

"It does demonstrate that much of what concerns us is a broader international concern," he said. At the same time, Mathai referred to Pakistan`s recent moves indicating its willingness to improve bilateral ties, including those on trade. "I wouldn`t have been as optimistic six months ago," he said, speaking about prospects for the latest round of peace talks, which began a year ago.

"The fact the (Pakistan) government is able to move on the trade track shows there`s a greater willingness to take things forward by all the players," Mathai said. As the talks with Pakistan develop, India would consider reopening a serious discussion on Kashmir, he said. India, he said, "would be happy" to start talks toward a deal to keep Kashmir`s borders as they are but allow greater trade and movement of people across the Line of Control.

The paper quoted Pakistan Foreign Office spokesman Abdul Basit as saying that while there had been progress in the "tone and tenor" of the discussions, Pakistan believed that "unless the Jammu and Kashmir issue is resolved, we cannot expect lasting peace in South Asia."

Mathai also spoke about the back-channel talks between India and Pakistan on the Kashmir issue during the Musharraf regime. "It was a very useful channel of discussions," he said. "They made progress." Basit, however, was quoted as saying that he had no knowledge of the 2007 back-channel diplomacy.

Mathai said India believes it is now "up to the Pakistanis to decide how to proceed" on peace talks. The Foreign Secretary said India is looking for "something solid" to announce before Prime Minister Manmohan Singh visits Pakistan. Singh last weekend accepted the invitation of President Asif Ali Zardari to visit Pakistan when the latter visited New Delhi and Ajmer.

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