India, Pakistan start foreign secretary-level talks

16:52, February 25, 2010      

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The much awaited India-Pakistan talks, the first after the Mumbai attacks in November 2008, began here Thursday with both sides preferring to take a cautious yet optimistic approach towards the agenda and the outcome of the engagement, said official sources here.

Indian Foreign Secretary Nirupama Rao and her Pakistani counterpart Salman Bashir met at the historic Hyderabad House, the venue of the official diplomatic talks, and exchanged pleasantries and posed for the cameras before heading in for the talks.

"We look forward to our talks," Rao told reporters outside Hyderabad House. "Hyderabad House is a familiar venue. We look forward to a very, good constructive arrangement," a smiling Bashir added.

Besides Rao, the Indian team included India's High Commissioner to Islamabad Sharat Sabharwal, joint secretary in charge of Pakistan Y.K. Sinha, ministry of external affairs (MEA) spokesperson Vishnu Prakash and other officials of the MEA.

The Pakistani delegation comprised Afrasiab, director-general of the South Asia division and a former deputy high commissioner to India, Pakistan's High Commissioner Shahid Malik, Pakistan's Foreign Office spokesperson Abdul Basit and other senior officials.

India has been stressing the centrality of terrorism as the agenda for talks, according to Indian official sources.

But the Pakistani side has said that it wants to have a discussion on all relevant issues affecting the two countries, including Kashmir and the water dispute.

Upon arrival in Delhi, Bashir said, "I have come here to bridge the differences. I am hopeful of a positive outcome."

In a statement made in Islamabad before leaving for New Delhi, he said bracketing the issue of terrorism with talks would be counter-productive since terrorism was an international issue and not an issue restricted to India and Pakistan.

However, there are also reports that India will try to clear the air on all misgivings that have plagued bilateral ties between both countries.

Government sources here said India is going to talk with an open mind, but is conscious of the limitations imposed by "the trust deficit post-Mumbai".

But official sources here declined to pre-judge the outcome.

While emphasizing that the Feb. 25 talks should not and will not be seen as a restart of the composite dialogue process, the Indian side has indicated that New Delhi's willingness to take that first step should not be doubted.

Meanwhile, the likelihood of a joint statement after the talks is remote, according to the sources.

The Pakistani delegation is also scheduled to call on External Affairs Minister S M. Krishna and National Security Adviser Shiv Shankar Menon, before flying back to Islamabad.

Source: Xinhua
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