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India rejects Pak demand for 'technical dialogue'

By Josy Joseph in New Delhi
May 15, 2003 16:12 IST
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India has rejected the Pakistani demand for a 'technical dialogue' for restoring overhead flight permission to each other's airlines saying just a formal consent is required, Indian officials involved in the latest peace moves told

US Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage had brought the Pakistani demand with him when he visited India last week.

"This is not a political issue that needs to be discussed in detail by officials," a senior Ministry of External Affairs official said.

India has decided, he added, to approach the issue of a dialogue with Pakistan in a phased manner. The broad contours of the phased process have been conveyed to the US when Armitage was here.

India argued with Armitage that 'status quo ante' should be first restored between the two countries to begin the peace process. That includes appointment of high commissioners, restoration of civil aviation links, bus and rail routes among others.

The second stage, according to Indian officials, is one of normalisation and engagement leading to an increase in confidence on both sides. Another official told that 'significant' improvement in trade ties will be one of the more important factors on which the progress of the second round will be measured.

"We are not into nitpicking or number games," the official said, commenting on the recent Pakistani steps to remove a few Indian items from the negative list. "We are not asking for a Most Favoured Nation status at this point of time."

There is no trade between the two sides through the land border. Official bilateral trade through third countries in 2001-2002 was just $204 million. According to some estimates this figure could go into several billion dollars if trade ties improved. Together, India and Pakistan constitute a vast market of 1.15 billion people.

In the third stage, once trade relations have improved, India wants Pakistan to end cross-border terrorism and demolish the infrastructure used to train terrorists.

India, a senior official said, has rethought the criteria used to define terrorism rejecting infiltration figures and radio contacts between militants as definitive indicators of increase or decrease in militancy.

Infiltration and radio contacts, he said, are factors, which can be temporarily influenced by the Pakistan government as and when it wants. "They (infiltration and radio contacts) are like taps and can be turned on and off (by Pakistan government) at will," he said.

According to the official India has now demanded concrete Pakistani efforts on four fronts:

  • Launching pads close to the Line of Control
  • Terrorist camps in Pakistan occupied Kashmir
  • Communication links across the border
  • Finance flow to terrorists in Kashmir.
  • Armitage, he said, was in fact told that India does not attach too much importance to the infiltration figures, which the US official claimed had come down.

    The shift in focus from infiltration figures has helped speed up the process of peace in the subcontinent. Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee has already, with his deft usage of words, brought down India's earlier stand of 'no dialogue without end to terrorism' to 'dialogue if credible steps are initiated against terrorism'.

    But the shift has put extra pressure on the US to make sure that Pakistan puts in more efforts to close down the terrorist camps permanently. When Armitage conveyed Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf's claim that there are no terrorist camps in Pakistan, the Indian side presented him details of the camps operating in that country. India also handed him a briefing paper on terrorism with latest updates.

    An official said, "Beginning of concrete Pakistani actions is enough for the time being. We are not demanding a 100 per cent end to terrorism and its infrastructure right away."

    "But if there is evidence of earnest Pakistani efforts," he added, "then India will not mind going in for summit-level talks."

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    Josy Joseph in New Delhi