New Delhi: In their first contact after the July 13 Mumbai terror attacks, Indian and Pakistani officials met on Monday to firm up new confidence-building measures to expand trade and travel across the two halves of Kashmir, which are likely to be unveiled during the foreign minister-level talks later this month.
A Pakistani delegation headed by Zehra H. Akbari, Director General South Asia Division (DGSA) in Pakistan's Foreign Office, held a meeting of the joint working group with the Indian team led by by Y.K. Sinha, joint secretary in charge of Pakistan, Afghanistan and Iran, in India's foreign office.
"The meeting was held in a cordial atmosphere," the external affairs ministry said in a statement in New Delhi after the talks.
"During the meeting, both sides reviewed the existing cross-LoC travel and trade arrangements to ensure their effective implementation and exchanged views on additional measures to facilitate cross-LoC travel and trade," the ministry said.
Among the proposals on the table were the launch of the Kargil-Skardu bus link, an increase in the frequency of cross-Kashmir bus link between Srinagar and Muzaffarabad and an increase in the number of trading days from two to four across the LoC, said informed sources.
Some of these cross-Kashmir CBMs, which seek to enhance travel and trade among the people of the two halves of Kashmir, are likely to be announced when External Affairs Minister S.M. Krishna holds talks with his Pakistani counterpart, Hina Rabbani Khar, July 27.
Khar is currently the junior foreign minister and Pakistani Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani is understood to have recommended her elevation as a full-fledged minister ahead of the India-Pakistan foreign minister-level talks this month.
Khar will be coming here July 26. The foreign ministers' meeting will be preceded by preparatory talks between Pakistan's Foreign Secretary Salman Bashir and his Indian counterpart Nirupama Rao July 25.
The cross-Kashmir CMBs are at the heart of people-to-people initiatives the foreign secretaries decided on during their talks in Islamabad last month.
Officials of the two sides also discussed finer points of an agreement on liberalising the visa regime that will spur greater people-to-people contacts, said sources.
No one has claimed responsibility for the July 13 Mumbai serial blasts that killed 19 people and injured over 130. Unlike in similar situations earlier, India has scrupulously avoided any insinuation linking elements in Pakistan to the terror strikes.
New Delhi's restraint has been widely lauded in Pakistan and is seen as sign of strong will on India's part to continue the re-engagement process it started with Pakistan in February.