Qureshi not to attend SAARC Foreign Mins meet

Islamabad: Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi will not attend SAARC Foreign Ministers` meeting to be held in Bhutan early next month and Pakistan will be represented by his deputy, official sources said on Thursday.

Qureshi decided not to attend the SAARC Foreign Ministers` meet in the Bhutanese capital Thimphu on February 8-9 so that focus would not be diverted from a meeting between the Foreign Secretaries of India and Pakistan at the same venue, the sources in the Pakistan government told PTI.

Foreign Secretary Nirupama Rao and her Pakistani counterpart Salman Bashir are scheduled to meet on the margins of the SAARC Foreign Secretaries` meet in Thimphu during February 6-7.

The meeting is aimed at exploring ways to revive the India-Pakistan peace process that has been stalled since the 2008 Mumbai terror attacks.

"There was a feeling that Foreign Minister Qureshi`s presence at the SAARC meeting and speculation about a meeting with his Indian counterpart in Thimphu would divert attention and focus from the meeting of the Foreign Secretaries," said a source.

Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Malik Amad Khan will represent Pakistan at the SAARC Foreign Ministers` meet in Thimphu.

The sources also said that Qureshi is expected to visit New Delhi in March for talks with his Indian counterpart S M Krishna.

The two countries have exchanged several proposals for reviving the peace process in the run-up to the meeting of the Foreign Secretaries.

In these proposals, Pakistan has pushed for the full-fledged revival of the composite dialogue and the inclusion of all issues in the proposed parleys, including what it describes as the "core issue" of Kashmir.

India has favoured a phased resumption of the peace process.

It has also pushed Pakistan to prosecute the perpetrators of the terror attacks on Mumbai that killed 166 people.

In recent days, several Indian leaders have expressed concern at the slow pace of the trial of seven Pakistanis, including Lashker-e-Taiba commander Zakiur Rehman Lakhvi, charged with planning, financing and executing the attacks.