New Delhi: After a long hiatus, India and Pakistan on Sunday take a step forward in a bid to revive the bilateral dialogue process that got stalled over two years back following the 26/11 Mumbai terrorist attacks.
The Foreign Secretaries of the two nuclear-armed neighbours meet in the Bhutanese capital, Thimphu today in what is being seen as an `exploratory mission` by New Delhi to restart talks.
Foreign Secretary Nirupama Rao flew to Thimphu yesterday for the meeting of the eight-nation South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC). She is expected to hold bilateral talks with her Pakistani counterpart Salman Bashir on the sidelines of the meeting today.
The talks could set the stage for a meeting between External Affairs Minister SM Krishna and his Pakistani counterpart Shah Mahmood Qureshi in New Delhi this year. The visit could take place as early as next month.
Qureshi is not visiting Thimphu for the SAARC Foreign Ministers` meeting on February 8. Krishna will represent India.
The meeting between the Foreign Secretaries will be the first official talks to revive the dialogue process since the meeting between the Foreign Ministers of India and Pakistan broke down in recriminations in Islamabad July 15 last year.
According to reliable sources, the Thimphu meeting will outline a tentative agenda of talks on less contentious issues like trade and Sir Creek to keep a limited dialogue going till Pakistan delivers on 26/11 justice.
The two sides may agree to a dialogue on terror-related issues between the Home Secretaries. The two sides may also agree to separate meetings of Commerce Secretaries, Culture Secretaries and Water Resources Secretaries.
Ahead of the talks, Rao put justice for the Mumbai terror attack victims on top of the agenda. In the run-up to the Foreign Secretary-level talks, she met Home Minister Chidambaram on Friday.
“This is an ongoing effort. This is an ongoing exercise. We hope that both the governments come to satisfactory conclusion about what is required so that the trial could be satisfactorily concluded because justice has to be done,” she said while alluding to the trial of seven Pakistani suspects in Pakistan for their alleged involvement in the November 26, 2008 Mumbai carnage.
Pakistan however continued to stay defiant on the eve of the talks, on its action against terrorism and came out with a provocative statement saying that India`s handling of the Samjhauta Express train bombing case showed that it lacked "courage to unearth culpability of Hindu extremists".
"India seems to be lacking courage to unearth culpability of Hindu extremists and their links with some Indian Army personnel," Foreign Office spokesman Abdul Basit said in a statement. India`s handling of the 2007 Samjhauta Express bombing case "doesn`t inspire much hope", he added.
In its response, India rejected Pakistan`s attempt to link the Mumbai attacks to the Samjhauta Express blast, saying there was "no comparison" between the two incidents and rubbished the contention that the pace of probe into the cross-border train attack had been slow.
Pakistan’s Prime Minister, Yousuf Raza Gilani, also sought to raise the issue of Jammu and Kashmir and urged India side for a "meanignful" dialogue to resolve it.
"I urge India to enter into a meaningful and result-oriented dialogue with Pakistan on the issue of Jammu and Kashmir," APP quoted Gilani as having said in a statement yesterday.
Gilani said Pakistan remains firmly committed to its stance on Jammu and Kashmir.
"The Kashmir dispute remains close to the heart of every Pakistani and the future of both Pakistan and Kashmir is linked," he said, adding that sincerity and seriousness should remain the basic fundamentals of dialogue process.
With Pakistan making its stance clear, New Delhi has already scaled down expectations ahead of the Thimphu meeting, with official sources saying the talks will be primarily exploratory in nature.
Terror is going to be a very important issue, New Delhi feels, but has signalled it was willing to discuss all issues of mutual concern.
(With IANS/PTI inputs)