By Nilofar Suhrawardy, Muslim Media News Service (MMNS)
NEW DELHI- Undeniably, the past five years have been witness to a major change in Indo-Pak relations.
On December 13, 2001, the attack on the Indian Parliament by five terrorists, identified by India as Pakistani nationals, led to a 45-minute gun battle in which 9 policemen and a parliament staffer were killed. Within weeks, with their diplomatic and transport links broken, the two countries came to the edge of war.
When viewed in this context, there is little doubt that relations between India and Pakistan at present seem better than ever. During the recent Foreign Secretary level talks held here (November 14-15), India and Pakistan agreed to set up a joint anti-terror mechanism. Its mandate would be to consider counter terrorism measures, including through â€œregular and timelyâ€ sharing of information, according to a joint press statement issued after the talks.
Asserting that the two countries have come a long way from where they were a few years ago, Pakistani High Commissioner in India, Aziz Ahmed Khan, said in an exclusive interview: â€œThere has been improvement in two countriesâ€™ relations during the last three years. We have had three rounds of composite dialogues. We have been having exhaustive discussions covering all issues.â€
Interestingly, when Khan assumed charge as the Pakistani envoy in Delhi (June 2003), the relations between two countries were still fairly cold. However, the ice was broken when during his speech in Srinagar (Jammu and Kashmir) on April 18, 2003, the then Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee offered a hand of friendship to Pakistan. He also announced a plan to restore full diplomatic relations and transport links. This was followed by Shiv Shankar Menon assuming charge as Indian high commissioner in Islamabad and Khan as the Pakistani envoy here.
Before stepping into India, Khan emphasized that he was coming here with an open mind. â€œWith the hope and expectation that the two sides would be able to sit across the table in a meaningful manner with an open mind and resolve all outstanding issue, including the core issue of Jammu and Kashmir, so that the subcontinent and the people of this subcontinent can see peace,â€ he had said.
Now, just before leaving India, with his term coming to an end in November, Khan can claim that he has been witness to continuous progress in Indo-Pak ties. When questioned on this, he replied that though at times the process has stopped, it has not backtracked at any stage. The pause in Indo-Pak talks was marked this year by the delay in talks at the foreign secretary level because of the Mumbai serial blasts in July.
At present, as expressed by Khan, leadership of both sides is â€œcommittedâ€ to resolving all issues, including Jammu and Kashmir. The priority for Pakistan is the Kashmir-issue, he said. The time to move towards this stage, that is resolving all issues, could be no better than now, Khan asserted. On what could be the best solution for Kashmir-issue, he replied: â€œOne that is acceptable to India, Pakistan and the people of Jammu and Kashmir.â€
Khan, a former ambassador to Afghanistan and Malaysia, had earlier served here as a deputy high commissioner (1985-87). Compared to Indo-Pak ties earlier, the present phase is marked by a great â€œchangeâ€ at all levels, Khan said. So much so that even Indo-Pak cricket matches seem more like festive occasions, with the rival countries appreciating the good cricket of the other side, he observed.
Though the recent years have been witness to more interaction at the diplomatic level, between people and business leaders from both countries, Khan is of the opinion that the two countries still have to take constructive steps to further strengthen their relations. For instance, there should be more people-to-people interaction, he said. Apart from the two countries enhancing their economic linkages, the media can play a still greater role to increase understanding of people on both sides of the border, Khan said.
When Khan stepped here in 2003, the two countries had just turned their back to a war-like stage. Now, he leaves the country, saying confidently that the two countries â€œcommittedâ€ to peace are only talking about friendship. Yes, Pakistan still feels uncomfortable about Indian authorities holding the country responsible whenever a terrorist incident occurs here. On this, Khan said: â€œThis finger-pointing tendency should stop.â€
Nevertheless, there is little doubt that Khan has good reason to feel satisfied with his being a witness to continuous improvements in Indo-Pak ties.
Developments suggest that the stage is set for taking ties to a still higher level expected to be pursued during Prime Minister Manmohan Singhâ€™s visit to Pakistan. Singh may visit Pakistan early next year. As expressed by Pakistanâ€™s Foreign Minister Khursheed Mehmood Kasuri: â€œWe are eagerly waiting for the Prime Ministerâ€™s visit.â€ Kasuri, who was here over the weekend on a private visit, said: â€œHe (Singh) will be welcomed very warmly. All aspects of all issues, which have emphasis in India like Kashmir, Siachen or the anti-terror mechanism, will come up for discussion and there will be an earnest effort to find a resolution to all these.â€