Friday, January 05, 2007



December 27, 2006

Back-channel talks held in Lahore, says paper

By Jawed Naqvi

NEW DELHI, Dec 26: Top representatives of Indian and Pakistani leaders met in Lahore last week to explore ways to push forward President Gen Pervez Musharraf's new ideas on Kashmir and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's favourable response to them, the Indian Express reported on Tuesday.

An Indian foreign ministry spokesman sought to deny the report, saying it was "factually incorrect".

He did not clarify though which of the facts he was commenting on -– the time of the claimed meeting or the place where the officials are said to have met or the personnel concerned as they were named.

The Express said Prime Minister Singh's Special Envoy Satinder Lambah flew to Lahore last week to hold back-channel talks on resolution of the Siachen issue and new Pakistani "ideas" on Kashmir.

"The report is factually incorrect," the Indian spokesman said in response to a question on a front-page report published in Tuesday's edition of the leading daily.

It is thought that the government is under pressure to deny what opposition leader Lal Kishan Advani has described as a surrender on Kashmir to Pakistan.

"While the UPA government is tight-lipped on Lambah's visit, official sources confirmed that PM's special envoy left for Lahore on December 19 to meet with Pak National Security Advisor Tariq Aziz to find a way forward in the Indo-Pak arrangement," the Express said.

The report said Mr Lambah flew to Lahore last week to holdback-channel talks with his counterpart, Mr. Tariq Aziz, on Gen. Musharraf's new "ideas" on Kashmir and to push forward momentum for resolution of the Siachen issue.

According to the Express, Mr Lambah's visit to Lahore came a day before Dr Singh, on a visit to Amritsar, spoke about the need for India and Pakistan to put decades of acrimonious past behind them and agree on a peace, security and friendship treaty.

Both sides were pushing for withdrawal of troops from the Saltoro ridge overlooking the Siachen Glacier, the report said, adding that a breakthrough on demilitarisation of the Siachen was the focus of back-channel talks between India and Pakistan.

The report also talks about the two sides engaged in negotiations on some way to accommodate New Delhi's position of recognising the Indian Army's positions on the ridge and the glacier in the overall agreement.

Foreign Secretary Riaz Mohammad Khan, during his visit here last month, had referred to Islamabad's willingness to consider the approach provided authentication of actual position of troops did not endorse New Delhi's claims on the glacier.

In his speech in Amritsar, Manmohan Singh, in a clear reference to Gen Musharraf's four-point formula revolving around joint management of Kashmir, demilitarisation, self-governance with a view to making the LoC irrelevant, had said that India welcomed "all ideas as they contribute to the ongoing thought process."

"Lambah's trip to Lahore comes at a time when External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee is all set for a day-trip to Islamabad on January 13, 2007 to invite Musharraf for the Saarc summit in New Delhi," the Express said.

Leader of the All Parties Hurriyat Conference Mirwaiz Umer Farooq is also expected to interact with the Pakistani leadership around January 5-7 next year, the paper said.

December 21, 2006

Singh seeks peace treaty with Pakistan

By Jawed Naqvi

NEW DELHI, Dec 20: Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has again welcomed President General Pervez Musharraf's ideas on Kashmir and told a public meeting in Amritsar he will strive to remove all hurdles to sign a treaty of peace, security and friendship with Pakistan.

"I too have a vision regarding India and Pakistan," he said.

"I earnestly hope that the relations between our two countries become so friendly and that we generate such an atmosphere of trust between each other that the two nations would be able to agree on a treaty of peace, security and friendship.

"I have spoken in the past about such a treaty and I do so once again today from the same place. I am sure that we can overcome all hurdles in our path and realise such a treaty. This will become the instrument for realising our collective destiny and the basis for enduring peace and prosperity in the region," he said.

The Indian government had been trying its best to ensure an atmosphere of peace with Pakistan and improve bilateral relations, said Dr Singh.

"Last week, I had read about some new ideas and thoughts expressed from Pakistan," he said, clearly referring to Gen Musharraf's four-step, staggered approach for resolving the Kashmir issue.

"We welcome all ideas as they contribute to the ongoing thought process. If both sides approach issues with an open and friendly mind, and work together on resolving each of these, then it will be possible for us to resolve all pending issues through a dialogue process," he said.

The Indian prime minister reiterated that the destinies of the two nations were interlinked.

"We need to put the past behind us. We need to think about our collective destiny, a destiny where both neighbours can work jointly towards a better future for their citizens. If our minds are determined and focused on this goal, I am confident that this destiny can be realised," he said.

Dr Singh had inaugurated the Amrtisar-Nankana Sahib bus in March this year when again he made some positive comments that still ring true.

He had, for example, recalled telling Gen Musharraf during his trip to Delhi last year that "The journey of peace must be based on a step-by-step approach, but the road must be travelled…As an ancient saying goes, a road is made by walking".

On Wednesday he appeared to endorse precisely that approach, now also joined by Gen Musharraf by way of interviews he has given to Indian correspondents. Much of the peace effort seems to be getting its thrust from the Punjab.

"In many ways, Amritsar is my home," Dr Singh said, adding: "In 1947, when India gained Independence, my family settled in Amritsar. I still have fond memories of the Amritsar of those days…Amritsar was the foremost centre for India's trading and commercial relations with Afghanistan, Iran and Central Asia."

“Since the Partition, while saying the morning prayers every morning, every Sikh has been expressing the wish and fond hope that they should once again have easy access to those religious places which are now in Pakistan,” he said.

"In the last two and a half years, we have improved our relations with Pakistan. It has been our sincere endeavour to establish an atmosphere of peace between our two countries so that both countries can live in harmony.

"As a result of our efforts, many bus services have started between the two countries, the benefits of which have accrued to the people of Punjab as well. Bus services continue between Amritsar and Lahore and Amritsar and Nankana Sahib.

"The movement of trucks between the two countries has also become simpler. This has greatly facilitated the easy movement of people and goods. Trade has increased and Amritsar has benefited. I am confident that if we continue on this path of peace, then Amritsar can once again regain its glory as a major centre of trade and commerce. I believe that this is possible and we will make it happen. This is not a dream, it can be a reality," he said.

The prime minister said he was certain that peace with Pakistan would bring prosperity to the border regions of Indian Punjab.

"If the border areas of Punjab have to develop rapidly, then such a treaty (of peace) is essential. I am aware that the residents of border areas of Amritsar, Gurdaspur and Ferozepur have been facing a lot of difficulties because they live close to the international boundary. There are difficulties in cultivating their fields and prospects for industrial growth appear poor. If we are able to increase our trade and commercial relations with Pakistan, these deprived areas would certainly benefit a lot.

“However, without waiting for that day, India has started work on many other initiatives. Last month, civilian flights began from Pathankot airport, increasing the connectivity of that area. We have started an industrial park project in Batala which will improve the industrial infrastructure there. In order to facilitate cultivation of farms in border areas, we have increased the duration for which farmers can cross the border fence to work their fields. They will now be able to work much longer than before along the entire 500km length of the border," he said.


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