Visiting Pakistan Foreign Minister Khurshid Mahmud Kasuri met Minister for External Affairs Pranab Mukherjee and reiterated that Indo-Pakistan relations were “very important” but observed that the two sides needed to “develop a level of trust.” Mukherjee announced that he will travel to Pakistan January 13 to invite President Pervez Musharraf to the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) summit in March at which time he will have “substantive talks” with Kasuri in Islamabad . Both leaders emphasized that this was “just an informal lunch” meeting as Kasuri was on a personal trip to attend a marriage.
Kasuri says the objective of the visit was to develop trust with Mukherjee as he had with the previous two Foreign Ministers. Acknowledging the “very heavy responsibility” of managing Indo-Pakistan relations, Kasuri says that he is happy to work with a “very senior leader” of the Congress Party as it give him “great hope” that “politicians who are strong” were required to manage tenuous bilateral relations.
While Kasuri was handing out platitudes to Mukherjee , Pakistan official spokesperson Tasnim Aslam told reporters that “proposals” on the Siachen issue “were forwarded during the recent foreign secretary-level meeting in New Delhi.” Reacting to Pakistan Foreign Secretary and Minister’s statements on Siachen, Defense Minister A.K. Antony had said that there was no change to India ’s stand on Siachen. Aslam said that the ball was in India’s court to consider the proposals and respond but refused to elaborate on the nature of these “proposals.” The Pakistan Army has already dismissed Indian claims over Siachen and refused to any validation process to maintain status quo of occupation arguing that the glacier is “part of Kashmir” and therefore is “disputed.”
Following Chinese President Hu Jintao’s visit to Pakistan , the two nations signed a USD 325 million deal for the construction of an additional 200 km to the Karakoram Highway (KKH) from Rai Kot to Sazeen— China has already agreed to construct the 335 kilometer stretch from Khunjrab to Rai Kot. Cost overruns left 200 kilometers incomplete but China has promised to fund this shortfall so the study of Gilgit to Skardu could be started soon ( Islamabad is trying to coax Beijing to construct this road too). China is to send 200 engineers and surveyors to Pakistan in February 2007 to start work by March. China has also assumed responsibility for maintaining these roads for one year till it can train Pakistani engineers. China and Pakistan consider the KKH the main artery of friendship that would bring goods from Gwadar through Kashghar (2600 km) to Beijing (8500 km away) and provide an easy access to the Central Asian Republics . The two nations have signed a quadrilateral agreement with Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan for the movement of goods.
It is precisely this sort of arteries that cause major concern in India security circles. While the construction of roads from Gwadar where China is building a major port at the mouth of the Gulf of Oman, to Central Asia is understandable, building a 10,000 kilometer road linking Beijing to Gwadar has questionable economic value. Whatever can be carried by a truck or a convoy for 10,000 kilometers from Beijing to Gwadar can be easily, more economically, and expeditiously carried by a ship unless the consignment should have military or clandestine significance. After all, carting valuable economic goods through the Baloachistan desert either through Sindh or terrorism filled North West Frontier Province does not make economic sense. Siachen overlooks this important artery of friendship and helps India monitor activities.