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India & Pakistan: “Cordial, Frank & Useful” Talks

By Nilofar Suhrawardy, MMNS India Correspondent

NEW DELHI: Paradoxically, Indo-Pak talks held recently have invited more criticism than appreciation from several sections in the subcontinent. They have been described as “a stalemate,” “disappointing,” “a failure,” having “collapsed,” “hypocritical” and so forth. Some parties, including India’s key opposition party- Bharatiya Janata Party have even demanded that Indo-Pak dialogue process should be called off. A close analysis of statements made by participants in the talks, however, conveys a different picture. The talks were held in Islamabad between Indian Foreign Minister S.M. Krishna and his Pakistani counterpart Shah Mahmood Qureshi (July 15).

After their meeting, while addressing a joint press conference with Qureshi, Krishna began by thanking his Pakistani counterpart for “sentiments he has expressed about good neighborly relationship between our two countries.” “That’s what we have been striving for the last so many years. At times, we have succeeded, at times we have not been able to make for the kind of progress that we expected, we thought we would,” He described his talks with Qureshi as “cordial and useful.” “We reviewed the current state of bilateral relations and discussed steps to promote trust and confidence in keeping with the mandate given to both of us by the respective Prime Ministers of India and Pakistan during their meeting in Thimphu,” Krishna said. “I think our talks have enabled us to develop better understanding. We are starting on this journey cognizant of the complexities in our relationship, the challenges that lie ahead and the promise that a good neighborly relationship between our two countries holds for our peoples,” he pointed out.

Krishna conveyed India’s concern about terrorism to Qureshi, laying stress that not allowing “territory of Pakistan to be used for terrorism against India would go a long way in building trust and confidence.” In addition, they discussed a number of other bilateral issues. “The bottom line is that it was good and constructive discussion,” Krishna said. To continue the discussion, “I have invited Qureshi to visit India, and I would look forward to welcome him to India in the near future,” Krishna said.

“We had a very frank, candid and honest discussion on where we stand, how we look at our bilateral relations, and how do we move forward,” Qureshi said. “Pakistan has always wanted friendly, cooperative, and good neighborly relations with India. We have started a process to achieve this objective. Both sides recognize that process had made incremental progress,” he pointed out. To “move forward,” dialogue is necessary and so is addressing issues of mutual concern, Qureshi said. “Today, both India and Pakistan are victims of terrorism. How do we face this challenge? We have come to the conclusion that the best way to deal with this challenge is to recognize this as a common enemy and adopt a common approach vis-à-vis this menace,” he said.

Referring to Mumbai-strikes, Qureshi said: “Pakistan would take the leads provided by the (Indian) Home Minister very seriously because we want to move on.” “And progress vis-à-vis the Mumbai trial, cooperation in overcoming the challenge of terrorism is important and has taken a very prominent role. One recognizes that,” he said. There are also issues of “core importance” to Pakistan, on which, “We have agreed on the need to discuss them, to make the process meaningful,” Qureshi stated. They discussed “all issues that are of importance whether it is terrorism, Jammu and Kashmir, the recent developments in Jammu and Kashmir, Sir Creek, Siachen,” he pointed out. They also talked in “very open, in a very frank, and in a very candid manner” about “opportunities of economic cooperation,” “economic integration” and “people-to-people contacts” to facilitate and sustain the dialogue, Qureshi said.

Concluding his statement, Qureshi described the meeting as “useful in creating an understanding on how to move forward.” He said: “We also feel that the progress made through a concerted effort in the last four years should not come to naught and we should build on it. So, to that extent I would say this was a useful meeting; it was a useful engagement; and we have agreed to continue this engagement in the days to come.”

When questioned about his Pakistan-visit in Delhi, Krishna replied: “I am quite satisfied.” On “gains” of his visit, he said: “The very fact that I went to Islamabad and I talked about core issues in our relationship…if you consider it as a gain, I am ready to along with it.” “I have invited Qureshi to India. I am looking forward to resuming the dialogue from where we left,” Krishna said.

Irrespective of whether Krishna-Qureshi talks are criticized as a failure or not, India and Pakistan seem committed to continuing their dialogue-process. Ahead of his meeting, Krishna said: “I am carrying with me a message of peace and friendship from the people of India and we hope to undertake this voyage of peace, however long and arduous, jointly with the Government and people of Pakistan.” After the talks, on his plans to visit India, Qureshi said: “I do not want to visit India for a leisure trip. I want to go for meaningful, constructive and result-oriented talks if the right atmosphere prevails and if they are fully prepared (for talks).”

Undeniably, it will take years, perhaps decades for India and Pakistan to resolve their differences on certain issues. But at least at present they are keen to continue the dialogue-process. Ruling out the option of calling off this process, Indian Foreign Secretary Nirupama Rao said: “I think dialogue with Pakistan is essential and continues to be the best option to engage Pakistan.”


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