Pakistan seeks better climate with India in NY talks

LONDON Fri Sep 25, 2009 12:17pm EDT

Pakistan's Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi speaks during an interview with Reuters at the G8 foreign ministers meeting in Italian northern Adriatic port of Trieste June 26, 2009. REUTERS/Nikola Solic

Pakistan's Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi speaks during an interview with Reuters at the G8 foreign ministers meeting in Italian northern Adriatic port of Trieste June 26, 2009.

Credit: Reuters/Nikola Solic

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LONDON (Reuters) - Pakistan is considering naming a former top diplomat as a special envoy for informal peace talks with India, Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi said.

He told Reuters Pakistan might appoint former foreign secretary Riaz Mohammad Khan to handle the informal dialogue known as "backchannel diplomacy".

A resumption of these talks would be an important step in easing tensions between Pakistan and India, whose rivalry complicates U.S. efforts to bring stability to Afghanistan.

But Qureshi said informal talks would work only if they were held in parallel with a formal peace process broken off by India after last year's attack on Mumbai.

"One can understand the usefulness of the backchannel diplomacy, especially when the atmosphere is so charged," Qureshi said. "It could be useful and Pakistan is open to that."

But for these to succeed, the two countries would also need to create an environment of trust. "That can only be done, in my opinion, if the front and the backchannel move in tandem."

New Delhi has refused to reopen formal talks until Pakistan takes more action against Pakistan-based militants whose campaign in Kashmir it says has spread to the rest of India.

Pakistan says it is seeking evidence with which to prosecute militants and wants cooperation from India in fighting the terrorism from which it says both countries suffer.

Qureshi, who meets Indian Foreign Minister S.M. Krishna in New York on Sept 27, has said he does not expect any breakthrough there. The two countries' foreign secretaries, or top diplomats, will also meet in New York on September 26, he said.

But he said the talks might help pave the way for another meeting between Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and his counterpart Yusuf Raza Gilani on the sidelines of a Commonwealth summit in Trinidad in November.

"There is a possibility and I think in there lies an opportunity. So if we can improve the climate in New York, then I think the possibility, the chances of an interaction increase."

PAKISTAN "NOT IN ANY WAY SOFT" ON HAFIZ SAEED

India and Pakistan have held three bilateral meetings on the sidelines of international gatherings since June.

But the thaw has been undermined by political opposition in India and by what New Delhi sees as Pakistani foot-dragging in tackling the Lashkar-e-Taiba militant group blamed for Mumbai.

Last week Pakistani police filed complaints against the group's founder Hafiz Saeed, accusing him of encouraging jihad and raising funds for a banned Islamist charity.

"This proves the government is not in any way soft on him," said Qureshi. "If we have a case, we will move against him."

However, he has not yet been arrested, and Pakistan is also seeking more evidence over his alleged involvement in Mumbai.

Washington is keen to see better relations between the two countries to reduce the Pakistan Army's focus on its eastern border with India and dampen their rivalry in Afghanistan.

Analysts had been waiting to see who Pakistan named as a special envoy as a signal of its willingness to resume backchannel talks which under former president Pervez Musharraf had sketched out a roadmap for peace in Kashmir.

He would replace Musharraf's own envoy in talks with Indian diplomat Satinder Lambah.

"Riaz Mohammad Khan, we feel, is a seasoned diplomat and he is also aware, to an extent, of how things proceeded so there is an element of continuity, so he could be a useful and a good choice," said Qureshi "So he is being, yes, being considered." (Editing by Janet Lawrence)

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