January 2005 News

Kashmir on top of dialogue agenda: Natwar coming next month

4 January 2005
The Dawn
Qudssia Akhlaque

Islamabad: Pakistan and India will take up the Kashmir issue at the political level early next month when Indian External Affairs Minister Natwar Singh arrives here on a visit, it is learnt. The visit, expected to take place from Feb 2 to 7, will provide the two sides with an opportunity to discuss the Kashmir issue on which no progress could be made at the recently concluded foreign secretary-level talks. 'The Indo-Pakistan dialogue has shifted to the higher political level and the Kashmir issue would now be taken up by the leaders of the two countries,' maintained a senior official, pointing also to a likely meeting between Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz and his Indian counterpart Manmohan Singh on the sidelines of the Saarc summit next month and the latter's planned visit to Pakistan early March. Mr Natwar Singh will be visiting Pakistan at the invitation of Foreign Minister Khurshid Mahmood Kasuri. The Indian foreign minister is expected to call on President Gen Pervez Musharraf and Prime Minister Aziz. His plan includes a visit to Peshawar and Lahore where he will witness Basant celebrations. During his talks with Mr Kasuri, Mr Singh is likely to discuss the Indian proposal of establishing meeting points at five designated places along the Line of Control for a reunion of Kashmiri families on both sides of the divide, diplomatic sources said. The proposal, first mooted by India at the foreign secretary-level talks in June, is being examined at the official level here. Though Pakistan does not seem to have any problems with the idea, diplomats say the proposal requires elaboration. While some officials believe there is merit in the proposal, others see it as an attempt to side track the real issue. Mr Natwar Singh had recently declared that there was 'no quick-fix solution' to the Kashmir issue. A significant statement made by his foreign secretary Shyam Saran during his visit here last week was 'options which may not seem feasible today may appear practical tomorrow.' At the December secretary-level talks both sides had acknowledged that they were dealing with a complex issue and had claimed that they were moving in the right direction even if progress was slow towards dispute resolution. Analysts say all the high-level interaction between Pakistan and India since early last year has failed to create any flexibility in the Indian traditional position on Kashmir one, Kashmir is an integral part of the Indian Union and two, Kashmiris are Indian citizens. If anything, before and after every top-level meeting, the Indians reiterate this position. Meanwhile, a slow-down in the back-channel diplomacy appears to be inevitable with the death of Indian National Security Adviser J. N. Dixit who had been pursuing the peace process with his Pakistani counterpart Tariq Aziz on a 'quiet' political track. Apparently, an important Kashmir-related confidence-building measure that was being negotiated on this track was the proposed Srinagar- Muzaffarabad bus service.


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