THIMPHU: Six months after failure of talks, India and Pakistan will make a fresh attempt to “unlock” the bilateral dialogue process when the foreign secretary, Ms Nirupama Rao and her counterpart Mr Salman Bashir meet here on Sunday during which the Indian side is expected to seek an update on 26/11 probe and trial.
On the eve of the talks, Pakistan sought to link the Samjhauta Express blast case to the Mumbai attack trial but this was promptly rejected by India.
Pakistan said India “needs to bridge the gap between what it says and what it does” juxtaposing New Delhi’s slow handling of the 2007 Samjhauta blast case with its insistence on a quick trial for the Mumbai attack accused.
India hit back, saying the two cases were not comparable, and there were clear leads in the Mumbai incident unlike in the cross-border train attack case.
India is going for the “exploratory” talks with “cautious optimism” and “reasonable expectations” and expressed its willingness to discuss all outstanding issues with Pakistan, but by a step-by-step approach.
Ms Rao and Mr Bashir, who are here for the SAARC meeting of foreign secretaries and council of ministers, are expected to discuss the problem of terrorism that is plaguing the relationship, besides some confidence-building initiatives concerning fishermen, people-to-people contacts and trade and commerce.
This will be the first meeting between the foreign secretaries since the last one in Pakistan in July last year which ended in a failure.
“Our attempt is to unlock the dialogue process and find the right path to move ahead,” sources said here on Saturday while pointing out that India has been trying so even after the Mumbai attacks.
Pakistan gave clear indications that it will rake up the Samjhauta issue at the meeting.
The Indian side said it is ready for this but it does not want to pre-judge whether it would upset the talks. India is also expecting Pakistan to raise the Kashmir issue.
On its part, India would strongly take up the issue of cross-border terrorism and seek an update on the Mumbai attacks case and efforts, if any, made by Pakistan to dismantle the terror infrastructure.
“During a dialogue, both sides raise the issues of concern to them. Surely, Pakistan will raise issues that concern it, we will raise issues that concern us,” the sources said.
They made it clear that India, as declared by the Prime Minister, Dr Manmohan Singh, is willing to discuss all outstanding issues with Pakistan in a step-by-step manner if its concerns on terrorism are addressed.
“We are clear that dialogue is the best way forward. So we need to engage Pakistan and we are doing so,” the sources said.
The meeting could decide on the dates for the India visit of the Pakistan Foreign Minister, Mr Shah Mahmood Qureshi who has accepted the invitation extended by the External Affairs Minister, Mr S M Krishna. Qureshi has so far refused to visit India unless there is an assurance of “result-oriented” talks.
The sources noted that there are a number of “doables” and these were proposed at the foreign ministerial meeting in Pakistan in July. Islamabad, however, had adopted the “all or nothing approach”, they said.
Seeking to play down expectations from the meeting, the sources said “one meeting of the foreign secretaries is not going to lead to solutions”. It, however, could pave the way for solutions.
India is approaching the talks, which are basically “exploratory” in nature, with “cautious optimism”, the sources said, hoping Pakistan would also move in with the same spirit.
Even after the failed July talks, the two sides have been maintaining contacts through diplomatic channels and their leaders have met on the sidelines of some multilateral events.
The resumption of full-fledged dialogue, which was stalled after the 2008 Mumbai attacks, would, however, depend on the progress by Pakistan to punish all those behind the 26/11 strikes, the sources said.