Stage set for Manmohan Singh-Geelani meeting

Islamabad welcomes Indias statement on bilateral talks

 Whether the PM’s remarks on talks which drew favourable reaction from Pakistan and USA - may actually lead to resumption of the composite dialogue process [CDP] between the neighbours remains to be see, but the key statements coming from the two sides on Thursday indicated that a serious attempt is on to reduce tensions in the relations between them.

India had stalled the CDP after the 26/11 attack in Mumbai by Pakistan-based terrorists and linked the resumption of the peace process to action being taken against the perpetrators of the assault.

 Speaking in Srinagar on Thursday, Singh said destroying terror camps by Pakistan will not be a pre-condition for talks. This is considered significant as it can virtually mean terror will be delinked from the CDP.

This was also what Singh said during this talks with Geelani at Sharm-el-Sheikh on July 16, 2009. However, it led to a huge outcry in India from both Indian foreign policy experts and the Opposition who questioned Singh over what change had taken place after 26/11 that he decided on talks. The joint statement after the meeting also came under attack because of reference to Balochistan which was vehemently opposed by even Congress leaders, of course in off-the-record conversations.  Unlike Sharm-el-Sheikh, the Congress was quick to endorse the PM’s statement this time.

Good omen

However, unlike after Sharm-el-Sheikh, there is no outburst from any quarters even hours after the PM’s statement. This, foreign ministry sources say, is a good omen for the resumptions of talks at the highest level.

Ironically, 26/11 took place when the CDP was underway – then Foreign Minister Pranab Mukherjee was holding a meeting with his Pakistan counterpart Shah Mahmood Qureshi.  Earlier to that the two foreign secretaries – Shivshankar Menon and Salman Bashir -  held a meeting on July 21, 2008 at the end of which India admitted that the CDP was under ‘stress’ following alleged Pak involvement in the attack on Indian embassy building in Kabul. The two foreign ministers had met in June, 2008 but it did not make much headway as Qureshi had to leave following the death of his close relative.

India’s turn

It is now the turn of the Indian foreign secretary to visit Islamabad for continuation of the CDP but New Delhi said after the outburst against the Sharm-el-Sheikh statement that it will not send the top official for talks. However, Foreign Minister S M Krishna and Qureshi met recently in New York.

Started in 2004, the compositThe Prime Minister’s Srinagar statement was welcomed by Islamabad immediately as Pakistan’s Foreign Office spokesman Abdul Basit said Singh’s remarks was a “welcome reiteration of the understanding reached at the Sharm-El Sheikh summit between Pakistan and India”.

 Singh will visit Port of Spain to participate in the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting starting November 27.

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