Rao to meet Bashir tomorrow; terrorism top on agenda

Bridging the trust deficit between India and Pakistan will top the agenda when Foreign Secretary Nirupama Rao meets her Pakistani counterpart Salman Bashir for talks tomorrow.

Islamabad: Bridging the trust deficit
between India and Pakistan and finding the elusive common
ground in efforts to tackle terrorism will top the agenda when
Foreign Secretary Nirupama Rao meets her Pakistani counterpart
Salman Bashir for talks here tomorrow.

Rao, the first senior Indian official to visit
Pakistan since the 2008 Mumbai terror attacks, and Bashir have
been tasked by Prime Ministers Manmohan Singh and Yousuf Raza
Gilani to find ways to bridge the trust deficit and prepare
the ground for a meeting of the Foreign Ministers on July 15.
Terrorism, particularly India`s concerns about
Pakistan-based terror groups like the Lashker-e-Taiba and
Jaish-e-Mohammed, will be among the issues that will be raised
by Rao during her meeting with Bashir at the Foreign Office
tomorrow at 11 am, diplomatic and official sources said.

Sources in Pakistan`s Foreign Office conceded that no
major breakthrough is expected during tomorrow`s talks but
said officials were preparing for the long haul in parleys
with India as both countries have a desire to usher in peace
and stability in the region.

The sources in the Foreign Office acknowledged that
India would certainly raise the issue of groups like the LeT
during the talks but said they believed this would not become
a "sticking point" as Indian officials have recently said they
are approaching the parleys in "an exploratory and not an
accusatory manner".

The Pakistani side is keen to revamp the existing
Joint Anti-Terror Mechanism by upgrading it and this issue is
likely to be raised during the talks, sources said.

While Pakistan has launched major military offensives
against Taliban in the country`s northwest and the adjoining
tribal belt, Indian officials believe little has been done to
rein in anti-India groups like the LeT, which continue to have
bases and induct new recruits in Punjab province.

Pakistani authorities have put on trial seven suspects
linked to the Mumbai attacks, including LeT operations
commander Zakiur Rehman Lakhvi, but the proceedings have been
mired in controversy and affected by prolonged delays.

Western diplomats based in Islamabad concede there is
valid reason for the growing frustration in India for the
perceived lack of action by Pakistan against groups like the
LeT and its front, the Jamaat-ud-Dawah.

Pakistani observers believe the Foreign
Secretary-level talks present an opportunity for the two sides
to find some common ground after a break of almost two years
in the bilateral peace process. Prior to the meeting between Rao and Bashir, officials
and leaders of India and Pakistan have only held talks on the
sidelines of international gatherings.

"Foreign Secretary Rao`s visit to Islamabad is a sign
of the judgement and patience demonstrated by the current
generation of Indian leaders, especially Prime Minister
Manmohan Singh," said leading columnist Mosharraf Zaidi.

"Singh has been a strategic voice for a functional
relationship with Pakistan serving as a cornerstone for India
and this is a good sign," he said.

At the same time, Zaidi cautioned that it was unlikely
Pakistani authorities would take "more significant action"
against groups like the JuD in the immediate future.

"This is a long-term problem and will take a long time
to resolve. We won`t see an army operation (in Punjab) but
what we will see is ownership of intelligence and law
enforcement operations. The cost of terrorism has been high
for Punjab province," Zaidi said.

He noted that the Punjab government "does find a way
when it has the will", like it did in the 1990s when it
cracked down on sectarian groups like the Sipah-e-Sahaba.

"So there is reason to be optimistic," he said.
Bashir will host an informal dinner for Rao following
her arrival in Islamabad on a special flight this evening.

Official sources said the interaction between the two
Foreign Secretaries at this dinner is expected to set the tone
and tenor for tomorrow’s talks.

Besides the Foreign Secretary-level talks, Rao will
call on Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi at the Foreign
Office at 2 pm tomorrow.

The Indian High Commisisoner will host an official
dinner for Rao at the mission tomorrow night.

Rao is scheduled to leave for Canada on June 25, hours
before another Indian delegation led by Home Minister P
Chidambaram arrives in Islamabad to participate in a meeting
of SAARC Interior Ministers.

Chidambaram will also hold talks with his Pakistani
counterpart Rehman Malik on the sideline of the SAARC meeting.


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