Indian and Pakistani officials are scheduled to meet later this month in the Indian capital New Delhi for formal discussions on nuclear confidence-building measures. The talks come in the wake of groundbreaking peace talks between the two bitter South Asian nuclear rivals earlier this year. (See ACT, January/February 2004.)
The May 25-26 meeting will include discussions on a possible agreement on annual exchanges of information regarding the location of nuclear installations and facilities. Another expected topic for discussion will be Pakistani nuclear weapons scientist Abdul Qadeer Khan’s admission that he passed nuclear secrets to Libya, North Korea, and Iran. Pakistani government officials have insisted that Khan acted without their support or acquiescence. While visiting Pakistan’s major nuclear facility in Rawalpindi April 21, Pakistani President Gen. Pervez Musharraf contended that no Pakistani government “had ever been involved in any kind of proliferation activities.”
In addition, Indian officials have expressed fears that Pakistani nuclear weapons could fall into the hands of extremists and have said that they will want a briefing on Pakistan’s nuclear security safeguards measures.
The talks will be led by Pakistan’s Acting Foreign Secretary Tariq Osman Hyder and the Indian Ministry of External Affairs Additional Secretary Sheel Kant Sharma. Further talks are scheduled for June 15-16 in Pakistan to discuss prevention of drug trafficking and smuggling. After the expert level meetings in May and June, the countries are planning another meeting in June that will bring together the countries’ foreign secretaries. Ministerial-level meetings will then assemble the foreign ministers at some time in August, according to the schedule outlined by India and Pakistan in February.
The talks mark the latest sign of progress in easing tensions between the two countries, which have come close to war on several occasions in the past five years. The most recent crises in 1999 and 2002 followed the two states’ nuclear-weapon test explosions of 1998 and raised concerns that the countries would resort to using their nuclear weapons. (See ACT, March 2004.)
Relations have been on an upswing since Indian Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee and Musharraf took the opportunity at a Jan. 6 regional summit in Islamabad to discuss renewing attempts at negotiation. In February the two countries charted a map for discussing the divisive issues plaguing Indo-Pakistani relations. Key issues involved confidence building, terrorism and drugs, trade and economic cooperation, travel restrictions, and disputed territory, including Jammu and Kashmir. (See ACT, March 2004.)
Both sides have maintained their commitment to the talks. “The ethos of the moment is genuine,” former Pakistani Foreign Secretary Tanvir Ahmed Khan told the BBC News Online earlier this year. “There is sufficient political will on both sides to continue talks.”
In Pakistan, Musharraf has reaffirmed his commitment to the talks although no progress has yet been reported on the bitter divisions over the disputed province of Kashmir, a long-standing Pakistani grievance.
Further, Indian High Commissioner to Pakistan Shivshankar Menon has said that his country’s national elections are unlikely to impede progress in Indo-Pakistani relations. Menon maintained that all of India’s major parties support dialogue with Pakistan and peaceful resolution of all issues.