First day of Indo-Pak talks ‘extremely positive’

Officials of Pakistan, left, and India, right, sit on either side of a table during India-Pakistan Home/Interior secretary level talks in New Delhi, March 28. India and Pakistan have begun two days of diplomatic talks amid a surge in good will before a seminal cricket match between the two sides. Both cricket-crazed countries are abuzz with excitement for the World Cup semifinal match Wednesday. (AP Photo)
New Delhi, March 28 (Agencies): In the midst of ‘cricket diplomacy’ underway ahead of the high-voltage India-Pakistan World Cup semi-final match at Mohali on Wednesday, the Home Secretaries of the two countries met on Monday as part of ‘real diplomacy’ and held talks on various issues of bilateral concerns. Today was the first day of the two-day meeting in New Delhi and Pakistan’s Home Secretary Chaudhary Qamar Zaman said after the first round that the talks with his Indian counterpart GK Pillai were positive. Home Secretary Pillai too had similar views to share. “Talks were extremely positive and progress (has been) made in the right direction,” he told reporters after the first day of talks ended.
While there was no official word on what came up for discussion during the talks, sources said India sought voice samples of the suspected Mumbai terror attack plotters believed to be in Pakistan. Sources said the Pakistani officials “assured” the Indian delegation that they would look into the possibility of challenging a court ruling that prevented Islamabad from sharing with New Delhi voice samples of those being prosecuted for the November 26-29, 2008 attack. India since long has been demanding voice samples of 7 Lashkar-e-Toiba (LeT) terrorists - including top leader Zakiur Rehman Lakhvi, Abu al-Qama and Zarar Shah - suspected to have masterminded the Mumbai carnage that killed 166 people, including foreigners.
Indian investigators want to match the voice samples with taped telephone calls between the 10 terrorists who unleashed the Mumbai mayhem and their Pakistani handlers. Only one of the 10 terrorists - Amjal Kasab - was caught alive, and has been tried and sentenced to death by a Mumbai court. Today’s meeting between the Home Secretaries is the first between the two since the attack. Another key issue debated at the meeting was the dates and procedures for a judicial commission from Pakistan to visit India and interview some of the witnesses in the Mumbai attack. India has already agreed to allow a Pakistani team to question them. New Delhi also wants to send its own judicial commission to Pakistan to interrogate the suspects there but there has been no response from Islamabad on this front.
India pulled out of formal peace talks with Pakistan following the Mumbai attack that is blamed on militant leaders based in Pakistan. The two nuclear armed rivals decided to restart the stalled peace process last month. Keeping up with that spirit, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh invited his Pakistani counterpart Yousuf Raza Gilani to India to watch the semi-final of the cricket World Cup between the two countries on Wednesday in Mohali. Other issues which India raised during the talks, the sources said, included speedy prosecution of the terrorist leaders in Pakistani prison. “They also discussed the issue of fishermen (in Indian and Pakistani jails),” an official said.
Special Secretary, internal security, UK Bansal and senior Home Ministry officials were present during the meeting at a luxury hotel in the heart of the capital. The first round of talks began around 11.00 am and ended at 4.30 pm. The talks will continue on Tuesday. SC Sinha, the chief of the National Investigation Agency (NIA) which is probing the Mumbai attack, was also present at the meeting. From the Pakistani side, High Commissioner Shahid Malik and senior Interior Ministry officials were present. Tough visa rules is part of the agenda for the talks, and the sources said the officials of the two countries would discuss ways to ease travel restrictions and enhance people-to-people contact. The Home Secretary-level meeting will be followed by a similar meeting of Commerce Secretaries in April and then by water resources department officials. The Foreign Ministers of the two countries will meet in July in New Delhi.
Cricket diplomacy to better Indo-Pak ties: Gilani
Islamabad, March 28 (Agencies): Cricket diplomacy will help improve relations between Pakistan and India, said Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani Monday at a special meeting here to brief his cabinet colleagues on his visit to Mohali, where he will meet his Indian counterpart Manmohan Singh and witness the World Cup semifinal between the neighbouring countries. Dawn quoted Gilani as saying that his meeting with Manmohan Singh will help improve relations between the neighbours.
Gilani said cricket diplomacy is an opportunity to help improve ties. Final touches are being given to the arrangements for Gilani’s visit to Mohali. Shabbir Anwar, the prime minister’s press secretary, told Dawn: “As soon as we receive a final word from the Indian government about the itinerary of the visit, we will decide who else will accompany the prime minister.” Sources in the Prime Minister’s Secretariat said preparations were in full swing for the visit. Experts have lauded Manmohan Singh’s invitation to Gilani to watch the cricket match.
Rasool Bakhsh Rais, who teaches political science at Lahore University of Management Sciences, described the invitation as a remarkable gesture and said it was a great moment in the history of the neighbouring countries. “I see it beyond symbolism. It is not about negotiating or re-negotiating India-Pakistan relations, but the occasion will also provide an opportunity to the two prime ministers to rethink their relationship,” Dawn quoted Rais as saying. Hasan Askari Rizvi, a political analyst, said Manmohan Singh’s invitation indicated a major policy shift in India. After the November 2008 Mumbai terrorist attack, New Delhi was not willing to hold talks on anything except terrorism despite Islamabad insisting on resuming the full spectrum of the dialogue. Rizvi was quoted as saying that the Gilani-Manmohan Singh meeting would help to improve the hostile atmosphere, but an extraordinary outcome should not be expected.