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Indo-Pak secretary-level talks begin in Islamabad

By Rezaul H Laskar in Islamabad
November 25, 2008 18:20 IST
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India and Pakistan began crucial talks in Islamabad on Tuesday on combating terrorism, drug trafficking and liberalising the visa regime under the composite dialogue process, as authorities freed 101 Indian prisoners, most of them fishermen in a goodwill gesture.

Indian Home Secretary Madhukar Gupta and his Pakistani counterpart Syed Kamal Shah met to discuss issues of terrorism, afflicting both the countries, with New Delhi expected to dwell upon Islamabad for extradition of some of the most wanted fugitives like Dawood Ibrahim, wanted in 1993 Bombay blasts cases.

There is expected to be focus also on the exchange of civilian prisoners and a proposal to liberalise the visa regime as well as illegal immigration, drug trafficking, human trafficking, and counterfeit currency  during the day-long talks, officials said.

Even as the talks got underway in Islamabad, Pakistani authorities freed 99 Indian fishermen from a jail in the southern port city of Karachi and two other prisoners from another jail in Karachi.

The fishermen, arrested between 2002 and 2006, were put on two buses that would take them to Lahore, for passage back home through the Wagah land border on Wednesday.

Before his departure from India, Gupta told media-persons on Monday that Delhi expected pro-active cooperation from Islamabad in dealing with security issues. "The whole purpose is to try and see that there can be an improvement in relations across a wide range of issues," he said.

One of the elements of the composite dialogue, Gupta said relates to security matters, terrorism, drug trafficking and other issues like prisoners of both countries in each other's jails, fishermen who keep getting caught and visa regulations and regimes.

Pakistani officials have indicated that they plan to raise recent disclosures about the alleged involvement of Hindu radical elements in last year's bombing of the Samjhauta Express train service during the talks. Nearly 70 people, a majority of them Pakistanis, were killed in the attack.

The secretary-level talks are part of the fifth round of the composite dialogue launched four years ago. The last meeting of the home secretaries of India and Pakistan was held in New Delhi in July last year.

During those talks, the two sides had discussed drafts of revised visa and consular access agreements aimed at liberalising and making existing provisions more effective.

The agreement on granting consular access to prisoners in jails of the two countries was signed during External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee's visit to Islamabad in May.

The two sides are also working on a memorandum of understanding between the Pakistan's Anti-Narcotics Force and the Narcotics Control Bureau of India to make existing cooperation more effective.

Terrorism and drug trafficking are among the eight items included in the composite dialogue process.    

The other issues are the military standoff on the Siachen glacier, Tulbul navigation project-Wullar barrage, the Sir Creek boundary dispute, economic and commercial cooperation and friendly exchanges, peace and security and the Kashmir issue.

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Rezaul H Laskar in Islamabad