Another round of Indo-Pak talks

Foreign minister level talks between India and Pakistan were held in New Delhi on July 27. The foreign secretaries of both countries met a day before the foreign ministers were to meet. Despite the fact that there were no high expectations from this dialogue, the joint statement seems promising. Indian Minister of External Affairs S M Krishna and Pakistan’s Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar “reviewed the status of bilateral relations and expressed satisfaction on the holding of meetings on the issues of counter-terrorism (including progress on Mumbai trial) and narcotics control; humanitarian issues; commercial and economic cooperation; Wullar Barrage/Tulbul Navigation Project; Sir Creek; Siachen; peace and security including CBMs; Jammu and Kashmir; and promotion of friendly exchanges.” This is indeed a positive development as almost all important issues between the two neighbouring states were discussed.

On the issue of Kashmir, several CBMs were announced. “The number of trading days stand enhanced from two to four days per week….Regular meetings between the Chambers of Commerce and traders of both sides will be facilitated,” were aimed at facilitating trade between Indian Kashmir and Pakistani Kashmir. It was also decided that “both sides will expedite the processing time for applications” for Kashmiris. In separate meetings, Ms Khar met hardline Kashmiri separatist leader Syed Ali Geelani and moderate Kashmiri leader Mirwaiz Umar Farooq. While Ms Khar’s meeting with Geelani ruffled a few feathers in India, the Pakistani foreign minister expressed her surprise at the reaction. In an interview, Ms Khar said, “Every [Pakistani] foreign minister who has come here [India] has met with them [Hurriyat leadership]…They are part of the democratic process that we all uphold, aspire to.” Indian Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister Omar Abdullah said there was “nothing worrying about” these meetings but he added that “for a resolution of the Kashmir issue between India and Pakistan through dialogue process, the government of Pakistan will have to talk to the mainstream leadership also”. Mr Abdullah may well be right. For decades Pakistan has only been giving overt and covert support to the dissident Kashmiri leadership while completely neglecting other stakeholders in Indian Kashmir. Since Pakistan wants a peaceful resolution of the Kashmir issue, it should now engage other Kashmiri political forces as well. Equally, India should open a dialogue with the dissident Kashmiri leadership. That said, it is a positive step that India and Pakistan have not shrunk from putting the Kashmir issue at centre stage.

A continuous dialogue process between India and Pakistan is the need of the hour. War is a non-option between the two nuclear states. Despite many negative and intractable issues, there are many positive measures that can be taken in the interim, which is what the two states seem to be doing. Sir Creek and Siachen are two issues that are just unnecessary irritants and can be resolved amicably. As for counter-terrorism, both sides “underlined the need for sustained effort to see an end to terrorism and violence and to realise their aspirations for peace and development”. Pakistan has so far not been able to deliver substantial results as far as the Mumbai attacks are concerned. We need to understand that unless and until this is done, India would continue to look at us with suspicion when it comes to cross-border terrorism.

On another note, Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar seemed to be an instant hit with the Indian media. While the world may think Pakistan is full of bushy-browed raving lunatics, we do have a moderate and progressive political leadership in our midst. Ms Khar said that “we can give a new atmosphere to the new generation of the two countries as our relationship today is different from the past,” which is what is essential for peace in the region.

(my editorial in Daily Times)


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