NEW DELHI, May 14: Indian Foreign Minister Yashwant Sinha has proposed a “six-plus-two” format for talks with Pakistan in which confidence-building measures and Kashmir will be discussed by foreign secretaries and the political leadership, leaving six other key issues for technical committees, reports and analysts said on Wednesday
Mr Sinha, in remarks to the Asian Age newspaper, warned that failure of talks between the two countries could have serious consequences but declined to say what these consequences might be.
The paper quoted Mr Sinha as saying that the dialogue should be “based on the six-plus-two-point agenda prepared by the respective foreign secretaries in 1997 with additions, if necessary.”
Analysts told Dawn that the format though rooted in the pre-nuclear agenda between the two countries was given new validity when Indian Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee and then Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif “operationalized” the structure following their meeting in New York in September 1998.
Diplomatic sources said it was significant that the first point in the format spelt out by Mr Sinha focused on confidence building-measures dealing with nuclear and conventional security.
The second point kept for discussion by the foreign secretaries and the higher political leadership is the issue of Jammu and Kashmir.
The format was agreed upon in November 1997 by Indian and Pakistan foreign secretaries Salman Haider and Shamshad Ahmed, respectively, under the guidance of then prime ministers Inder Kumar Gujral and Nawaz Sharif, when Mr Haider had visited Islamabad.
The remaining six points in the composite dialogue, to be addressed by technical committees comprising officials, are: Wullar barrage, Siachen, Sir Creek, drug trafficking and terrorism, economic and commercial cooperation, and promotion of friendly exchanges in various fields.
“It is not just a question of starting the dialogue but taking. it to a conclusion, it has to be sustained over a period of time,” Mr Sinha told the Asian Age.
Mr Sinha spoke of “a timeframe on implementing the confidence- building measures”. The re-posting of high commissioners and restoration of air links are to be the first of these.
He made it clear that the dialogue would have meaning only if it was sustained.
“I hope that everyone realizes the seriousness and sincerity of the prime minister’s offer of peace and the risks involved if we fail,” Mr Sinha said.
Asked to define the risks, Mr Sinha said: “I will leave these undefined for the moment.” He said the CBMs suggested by the prime minister should be put in place to build a level of trust before the talks, and “we should work on these steps in a timeframe.”
He said he could not specify the timeframe as “it takes two to tango” and much would depend on adequate responses from Pakistan. Both countries should adopt a “step-by-step approach,” he said.
In reply to a question on Mr Vajpayee’s “lessons to be learnt from Iraq”, Mr Sinha said: “There is a new reality after Iraq, forcefully brought home to all countries. The developing countries, the weaker countries at this point of time have to make a realistic assessment.”
Asked did this mean taking a position out of fear, he said: “It is not a position out of fear but out of realistic assessment”.
He said there was no need to abandon the agenda drawn up by the foreign secretaries earlier and to draw up a new list of items to be discussed.
If any side wanted to make any additions it could discuss the matter and do so. He said India was not adding anything at this point of time.
Mr Sinha was “categorical” that Pakistan must stop “cross- border terrorism and dismantle its terrorist infrastructure” if it was serious about talks.
Asked if he had received any indicators that Pakistan was doing anything on this front, Mr Sinha said: “We have not received any positive assurance on this from anyone”.
He rejected the suggestion that talks would help in reducing terrorism, describing this as a “very curious statement.”
He explained his point thus: “If they say nothing is happening, then how can the nothing come down with talks.”
Mr Sinha said talks and cross-border terrorism “cannot go together, it is not practical or morally right.”