New Delhi: Pakistan Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi on Wednesday said that Kashmir and water issue will top the foreign secretary-level talks between New Delhi and Islamabad.
Kashmir would be central for Pakistan as this is an issue that India recognises as well, Qureshi said, adding, “India has even started quiet diplomacy with the Kashmiris, in fact it is an issue that all three recognise.”
Talking to The News and Geo in a joint interview, Qureshi said that the other matter to be taken into consideration between the two sides would be the water issue. “The Parliament has debated this and it has been raised at the climate change conferences. Pakistan is an agriculture-based country and 90% of our water is needed for agriculture. When I met with (Indian) Prime Minister Singh, I presented this issue. Of course strategic balance is another issue for us.”
Pakistan seeks improvement in the anti-terrorism mechanism mutually agreed by Indian and Pakistan, Qureshi said. “We can dwell on this as terrorism is also an issue for Pakistan. Many other issues are interlinked”, he said, adding, Foreign Secretary (Nirupama) Rao had told Pakistan`s High Commissioner to India Shahid Malik that "all issues can be put forward and discussed".
"They can raise whatever issue they want and we will do the same. If we are to have a meaningful engagement, there should not be conditions. There will be no benefits if conditionalities are imposed. Conditions will prevent the dialogue from moving forward," he said.
Speaking on Afghanistan, the minister said, “We want a peaceful Afghanistan and reconciliation should be Afghan-led. If they want a role for Pakistan we are ready. After all we did cooperate in the meetings of jirgas and jirgagaees.”
Earlier in the day, Qureshi told The News in his office, “It was because of the political forces and the military being on the same page throughout this whole period that it forced a re-think in India which also made them realise that talks were in their interest. India tried its best to isolate Pakistan after Mumbai and tried to put it on the mat at every given opportunity. After all what other option did we have but talks?”
Commenting on Pakistan’s challenges on its western as well as eastern borders, Qureshi said, “Our engagements at the political and military level proved that we were on the same page and certainly General Kayani pointed out at Brussels that Pakistan and India have a history, there is ‘capability’ on the other side and though intentions can be ‘good’ they can change as well.”
Qureshi’s statement came after he chaired the inter-ministerial meeting at the Foreign Office that was attended by Foreign Secretary Salman Bashir, Pakistan`s High Commissioner to India Shahid Malik, Director General (South Asia) Afrasiab Mehdi Hashmi and senior officials of the military, ISI and Defence and Interior Ministries.
Indo-Pak Composite Dialogue
February 25 could be the date for talks between India and Pakistan. Qureshi said, February 25 is "not a bad date" for the talks. Foreign Secretary Nirupama Rao had proposed February 18 and 25 as dates for the talks with her Pakistan counterpart
Salman Bashir. The composite dialogue between the two sides was suspended in the wake of the 26/11 Mumbai terror attacks.
"I believe we should move forward. Common sense states that talks should be held as soon as possible," Qureshi said.
"What is important is that we start talking. Of course we feel that these talks should be the re-start of the composite dialogue and take it up from where we left off. After all, all the issues that both sides want to raise are included in the composite dialogue," he said.
In reply to a question on whether Pakistan would seek an assurance from India that it would not break off the talks if there was another Mumbai-like terrorist attack, Qureshi did not give a direct answer but said: "The terrorist incident in Mumbai caused a setback in ties. Such incidents are occurring in Pakistan almost every day and nationals of many countries are involved in attacks that kill innocent people.”
"Have we snapped ties with these countries and stopped talking to them? We have not broken off ties with governments. Should we tackle this problem jointly or break off ties and strengthen the hands of forces who want just that to happen?" he added.
Qureshi said he would share the outcome of the meeting with the political leadership and "then we will chart a way forward".
Asked about the progress made in the four rounds of the composite dialogue that began in 2004, Qureshi said: "It would not be correct to say there was only nominal progress or that the four rounds were not beneficial. I believe there was incremental progress and confidence-building measures were adopted on peace and security and Kashmir."
(With PTI inputs)