ISLAMABAD, Sept 1: Pakistan and India on Thursday agreed to take bilateral ties forward and implement more confidence-building measures such as opening more bus routes between the two countries.

At separate news conferences held after their talks, Foreign Secretary Riaz Mohammad Khan and his Indian counterpart Shyam Saran termed their review of the dialogue process ‘very constructive’ and ‘very productive’ setting the stage for a summit meeting between President Pervez Musharraf and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh at New York in mid-September.

Mr Khan said both sides had agreed on the “integrity of the composite dialogue” and would start the third round by the year-end.

He described the talks as good and positive and added that apart from preparing for the October meeting between the two foreign ministers they had also discussed the upcoming meeting between President Musharraf and Prime Minister Singh.

He said the two sides had reviewed the entire gamut of the second round of composite dialogue and a joint press statement would be issued on Friday when the talks would formally conclude.

“We looked at things in the light of the April 18 declaration issued after President Musharraf’s meeting with Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.”

He said they had decided to have a meeting of the Joint Economic Commission at an early date to work out its structure, mandate and objectives. Headed by foreign ministers, the commission last met in 1989 and a decision to revive it was taken at the Musharraf-Singh meeting in Delhi.

Mr Khan said the talks had yielded positive results such as the start of the bus service, upgradation of hotlines and an agreement on an MoU on pre-notification of missile testing which would be signed by in October.

He said Kashmir remained the main issue for Pakistan and it had been raised at all levels and would again be taken up at the New York meeting by President Musharraf.

Mr Saran called the meeting ‘very productive, very constructive, forward-looking’ and said: “We have taken a number of decisions in order to take our relationship forward.

“This has been a very satisfying visit for me, a visit which has been productive, a visit that I believe has enabled us to set the stage for what we hope will be...a very constructive and also a very productive meeting between the president (of Pakistan) and the prime minister (of India) in New York,” he said.

MESSAGE TO AZIZ: The Indian foreign secretary, who called on Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz after the talks, said the Pakistani leader had conveyed to him Islamabad’s “interest to take our relationship to a higher level” and explore complementarities existing between the two economies.

Mr Saran said he had conveyed to Mr Aziz a message from Mr Singh that “India is determined to address all the outstanding issues between the two countries, (and) this includes of course the issue of Jammu and Kashmir”.

But, Mr Saran pointed out, he had conveyed to Prime Minister Aziz that India could address the Kashmir issue within its declared parameters that “it is not possible for us to look at redrawing of boundaries or concessions in territorial terms”.

However, he said, the Indian side believed that as civilized countries the two states had an obligation to minimize as much as possible the negative consequences of the situation and allow people to have easy interaction with one another, restore the natural flow of goods and people.

“We believe that in...undertaking this journey together we may not immediately be aware of what the final destination may be, what shape that final destination would take. But one thing which is very clear to us is that any mutually acceptable agreement that we have to arrive at must enjoy the support of the people of India (and) the people of Pakistan.”

The Indian secretary said the logic of the win-win situation that the two sides had been talking about – such as regarding the planned Iran-Pakistan-India gas pipeline – could apply to much larger canvas of projects and proposals between Pakistan and India and in the rest of South Asia.

He said at the meeting both sides felt that significant progress was made on several of the issues that were on the table.

“There are specific areas in which we have agreed to take our relationship forward,” he said. Referring to finalization of the text of an agreement for pre-notification of missile tests and the text of an MoU involving the Indian coastguard and the Pakistani maritime agency about communication links between them, he said both accords would be signed in October.

He told a questioner that some progress would be recorded on the issues of Siachen and Sir Creek within the next few weeks.

He said the two sides were discussing the possibility of increasing the frequency of the fortnightly Muzaffarabad-Srinagar bus service and had agreed to look at some additional routes, including the one between the towns of Poonch and Rawalakot.

Mr Sararn said India had also suggested a bus service between Kargil and Skardu as demanded by the peoples of those areas.

Other proposed linkages were a bus service between Amritsar and Lahore, and between Amritsar and Nankana Sahib, he said and added: “We will be holding technical talks in order to operationalize this as early as possible.”

India, he said, had expressed readiness to consider a bus service between Lahore and Sarhind.

Asked about the possibility of a reduction in Indian troops in Kashmir, he said such a course lay “in the realm of our own sovereign decision” and would be based on the assessment of the security situation prevailing there.

“The reality is that...there continues to be adverse security situation in the region because of cross-border terrorism, because of continued attempts at infiltration. There are still violent terrorist incidents which are taking place and until the security situation improves the question of redeployment of security forces really does not arise.”

He disagreed with the view that progress of the peace process was slow and said no one should expect spectacular moves in quick succession.

About the possibility of tripartite talks on Kashmir, including the Kashmiri leadership, Mr Saran said there was an elected government in Indian-held Kashmir but added that New Delhi was willing to talk to even those who had not gone through the electoral process but wished to contribute to peace and stability in the state. “And this is precisely I think what is taking place,” he said about the talks offered by the Indian prime minister to the All Parties Hurriyat Conference leaders.

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