Kashmir Not On Saarc Agenda Says Pakistan
29 December 2003
Islamabad: Pakistan indicated yesterday it would not raise the Kashmir dispute with India at the upcoming summit here of the seven-nation Association for Regional Cooperation (Saarc) but said it could be discussed at a bilateral meeting on the sidelines. Pakistan also said however that next week's South Asian summit in Islamabad provided a rare and historic opportunity for resumption of stalled dialogue with its neighbour India. 'There is a long-standing tradition that bilateral issues are not discussed in Saarc,' Foreign Office spokesman Masood Khan told a press briefing, ahead of the January 4-6 assembly of heads of state and government of Pakistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Maldives, Nepal, India and Sri Lanka. Indian Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee has confirmed his participation, but New Delhi has said no bilateral meeting with Pakistani leaders are planned. The spokesman said the summit would provide a 'rare and historic opportunity' for meeting between the leaders of the two South Asian nuclear-armed countries, which have moved to mend fences in recent months by reviving full diplomatic ties and travel links. 'Kashmir has never been discussed at Saarc; we will not discuss it at Saarc summit but it can be discussed at some bilateral meeting.' India has so far cold-shouldered Pakistan's consistent calls for resumption of a composite bilateral dialogue process to resolve the 56-year old Kashmir row and all other outstanding problems. 'Since there has been no dialogue since Agra it is high time that the two countries engaged each other comprehensively. The venue of Saarc presents that opportunity and if the Indian leadership de-monstrates statesmanship there is a possibility,' Khan said. The spokesman said bilateral meetings could facilitate resumption of political talks, leading ultimately to a composite dialogue. He said Vajpayee had stated sometime back that he would be happy to meet Prime Minister Jamali. 'Our prime minister responded positively, so there is a possibility.' The spokesman said there was however no clear indication of the precise intention of the Indian leader. Khan said there should be a new spirit in regional cooperation. The Saarc nations must revitalise efforts to come closer and create infrastructure for developing commercial, economic and cultural cooperation. There should not be any hegemonic paradigms and matters should be handled with an egalitarian spirit, he said. Meanwhile, the Saarc process kicked off formally here yesterday with the meeting of the forum's Programming Committee. As per tradition Pakistan's Jalal Abbas Jillani, a senior foreign ministry official was elected chairman.