Back-channel talks held in Lahore, says paper
26 December 2006
New Delhi: 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.