Pakistan, India Foreign Ministers Expose Deep Divisions Over Peace Talks

The foreign ministers of Pakistan and India today publicly exposed the gulf between their countries’ positions on how to rebuild a peace process struggling to recover from the 2008 Mumbai attacks.

Pakistan’s Shah Mahmood Qureshi and his Indian counterpart, S.M. Krishna, yesterday held seven hours of talks in Islamabad, and while they agreed to meet again, no date was set. A joint press conference was devoid of any new trust-building announcement.

“During the discussions, we received an impression that India was not psychologically prepared,” Qureshi told reporters at an unexpected briefing in Islamabad today. “They were selective in topics, while we wanted to discuss all the issues,” including the disputed Siachen glacier, Jammu and Kashmir and terrorism.

Arriving in New Delhi, Krishna said that, while the two men discussed a range of issues, he told Qureshi that an “all out effort” to stop guerrillas from attacking India would go a long way to restoring trust. Not doing so would render “futile” all other efforts to improve relations, he said.

India maintains that no return to the full-fledged talks of 2003 to 2008 is possible until Pakistan fully dismantles terrorist groups on its soil, especially the Lashkar-e-Taiba outfit that India blames for the Mumbai attacks. Still, recent meetings between the two countries’ prime ministers, home ministers and foreign secretaries were evidence of a thaw.

‘State Actors’

Yesterday’s talks were clouded by fresh Indian claims of official Pakistani involvement in the siege of its financial center, a three-day assault by 10 Pakistani gunmen that killed 166 people.

While India blames Lashkar for the raid and has previously suggested it may have been aided by “state actors,” Indian Home Secretary G.K. Pillai was quoted in the Indian Express newspaper July 14 as saying that officers from Pakistan’s main spy agency “were literally controlling and coordinating it from the beginning till the end.”

Qureshi said yesterday that Pillai’s claims were “uncalled for” and undermined efforts to restore the peace process. “On the eve of this dialogue, tell me to what extent” Pillai’s remarks help, Qureshi said.

Improved ties between the nuclear-armed neighbors and rivals of 60 years are key to U.S.-led efforts to fight militancy in Pakistan and Afghanistan, where India and Pakistan compete for influence.

Headley Probe

“As expected there was no breakthrough,” said D. Suba Chandran, deputy director of the New Delhi-based Institute of Peace & Conflict Studies. “Both sides are really not sincere to take the peace process forward at this stage. They are holding talks because of U.S. pressure.”

Krishna said yesterday that he would return to India in the hope that the Pakistani government would follow up leads provided by David Coleman Headley, a suspect in the Mumbai attacks who is in U.S. custody.

If the talks focus only on the issue of terrorism, then it will be difficult for Pakistan to “move forward,” Qureshi said, adding he won’t call yesterday’s talks a “deadlock.”

Headley in March pleaded guilty in the U.S. to charges arising from terrorism training and spying missions that he said helped Pakistani militants linked to al-Qaeda plan attacks abroad, including the one in Mumbai.

Economy Hit

Economic development in South Asia has suffered because of rivalry between India and Pakistan, which account for four- fifths of the region’s economy. India accuses Pakistan of supporting armed extremists in Jammu and Kashmir, its only Muslim-dominated state. Pakistan denies the charges and says it offers only moral support to separatists.

Divided Kashmir, the cause of two of the neighbors’ three wars, and the threat posed by militants remain the biggest flashpoints. “It is not possible to delink Kashmir from the negotiations,” Qureshi said today.

To contact the reporter on this story: Bibhudatta Pradhan in New Delhi at bpradhan@bloomberg.net; Farhan Sharif in Karachi at fsharif2@bloomberg.net

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