India, Pakistan narrow differences on Kashmir, launch new CBMs
14 March 2007
Indo-Asian News Service
New Delhi: India and Pakistan appeared to be narrowing their differences over their decades-old Kashmir dispute, deciding Wednesday to launch a slew of confidence-building measures (CBMs), including cross-border truck and bus links, whileunderlining their strong 'political will'to put relations on a new plane.As Indian Foreign Secretary Shivshankar Menon and his counterpart Riaz Mohammad Khan concluded two days of talks in the fourth round of the composite dialogue, discussions centred on Kashmir-related CBMs with the two diplomats emphasising that the dialogue on the issue had progressed more than it had ever done in the past few decades and was backed by their topleaderships.Going by the way the two foreignsecretariesemphasised the 'quality of discussions and progress' overthe Kashmir issue, it would appear the two countries may be inching closer to an understanding over a dispute that has been theroot cause of two wars between them.'There is a clear political will on both sides to make progress in the composite dialogue. Our relations are qualitatively better than they have been for a long time,' said Menon.'We have had more intensive discussions than we ever had,' said Menon, adding that there was a need to 'narrow down divergences on issues that divide us.'Never before we have had such sustained and focused discussions on Kashmir as in the last threeyears. There is need to seize the opportunity,' said Khan.Khan added that the discussions over Kashmir have been taken at multiple levels - at the level of leadership, foreign ministers and in the composite dialogue framework.The two neighbours plan to discuss the modalities of launching the Srinagar-Muzaffarabad truck service, expected around July, that is set to boost trade and allow people of the two divided halves of Kashmir to develop economic stakes in each other's welfare.In a significant advance, Pakistan has agreed to an old Indian proposal to consider the Kargil-Skardu bus link with a view to operationalising it soon.'Pakistan has agreed to consider the Kargil-Skardu bus service (between the two divided halves of Kashmir administered by India and Pakistan). We will start looking at logistics and modalities to operationalise this bus link,' Menon told reporters at a joint press conference with Khan in the foyer of the Pakistan foreign office.Pakistan has also proposed some fresh cross-border CBMs, including enhancing sporting links, the launch of a postal service and a helicopter service between the two parts of Kashmir, Khan said.In yet another indication of a new political will to bridge trust deficit over the issue of terrorism, the two sides committed to bolstering the recently-launched anti-terror joint mechanism with New Delhi giving the list of 19 passports of Pakistani nationals who died in the Samjhauta Express' link train blasts in India last month. Pakistan has agreed to help in identifying them, thereby pushing the investigation into the train blasts.The two sides also gave a push to the resolution of the dispute over the Siachen glacier with their defence secretaries, assisted by director general of military operations (DGMOs), planning to hold talks in April.The resolution of the dispute over the Sir Creek marshland is set to move forward with both sides having completed the joint survey.The two countries sought to bridge trust deficit by agreeing to push negotiations on the prevention of incidents at sea, modalities for the conduct of quarterly flag meetings at the sectors in the Line of Control (LoC) and speedy return of inadvertent line crossers.They also agreed to fully observe the over three-year-old ceasefire at the LoC and proposed drafts for new border control guidelines along the international border. The two countries also committed to conclude an early agreement on no development of new posts and defence works along the LoC.People-to-people contacts between the two countries are set to get a boost too with Pakistan agreeing to fine-tune an agreement for a liberal visa regime.They plan to conclude an agreement on consular access and revise a protocol to enhance the visits to religious sites in each other's country.