ISLAMABAD: The keenly awaited meeting of the foreign secretaries of India and Pakistan is expected to take place in Sharm el Sheikh on the sidelines of the non-aligned summit next month.
The meeting may bring the two countries closer to resuming the peace process stalled since the Mumbai terror attack.
‘It has been agreed that the two secretaries would meet in the Egyptian resort of Sharm el Shiekh on either July 13 or 14, on the sidelines of NAM summit and a formal announcement would be made shortly,’ a well-placed diplomatic source told Dawn on Friday.
The two secretaries would be reaching Sharm el Sheikh by July 11 for meetings of officials preceding the July 15-16 summit.
Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh would also meet at the summit. Initially, President Asif Zardari was to attend the summit but he decided to pull out of the event.
The finalisation of the date and venue for the secretary-level talks came as foreign ministers of the two countries agreed in Trieste (Italy) to continue engagement for addressing the outstanding issues straining ties between their countries.
Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi and Indian External Affairs Minister S. M. Krishna, who were in Italy to attend the G-8 meeting, agreed in their unscheduled meeting that there was vast potential in India-Pakistan relations that needed to be harnessed for mutual benefit.
Emphasising the significance of the secretaries’ talks, Mr Krishna was quoted by Indian media as saying: ‘Forthcoming talks of foreign secretaries, as was decided by our leaders in Russia, is important as it will enable us to take stock of where we stand on the issue of terrorism and the fulfilment by Pakistan of its assurance that its territory would not be used for terrorist attacks on India.’
Despite the agreement on date and venue for the talks differences over the agenda persist and could even undermine the outcome of the meeting.
It is evident from the statements coming from the two countries that India would attempt to keep the Sharm el Sheikh dialogue limited to the issue of terrorism, while Pakistan would press for unconditional resumption of the Composite Dialogue.
Sources privy to preparations for the crucial talks say India was attempting to recast the entire framework of peace talks, which despite slow pace had made substantial gains.
Pakistan, they said, was trying to pre-empt the Indian design for wriggling out of the Composite Dialogue and reducing the engagement to one-point agenda.
This, it is feared, would nullify all progress made on Siachen, Sir Creek and other issues included in Composite Dialogue. Nevertheless, they insist that Pakistan wants to remain engaged with India.
Notwithstanding the intense differences between the two sides, Mr Qureshi after his talks with his Indian counterpart in Trieste expressed optimism about Pakistan and India ‘getting along in restoring’ the Composite Dialogue.
Mr Qureshi described his interaction with Mr Krishna as ‘very positive and fruitful’. Mr Qureshi, according to Reuters, described the meeting as ‘a re-engagement of the dialogue’.
‘When we restart the dialogue, obviously the Kashmir issue will come under discussion, but we have other issues as well,’ the minister said, including cooperation on ‘terrorism and extremism’.
Asked whether Pakistan intended to prosecute militants responsible for the Mumbai attacks, Mr Qureshi said: ‘We will do our utmost to take them to court, and if we can put together a legally tenable case, we would want them prosecuted and we would want them convicted.’