By Nilofar Suhrawardy, TMO
NEW DELHI: Notwithstanding the fact that India and Pakistan are still a long way off from settling their disputes over several important issues, including the Kashmir-problem, they must be credited for adopting a cordial diplomatic approach towards each other. This is marked by recent Indo-Pak meeting, between foreign secretaries of the two countries, being viewed as â€œpositive.â€ The amiable note on which the meeting was held between Indian Foreign Secretary Nirupama Rao and her Pakistani counterpart Salman Bashir in Islamabad is marked by their addressing a joint press conference and issuing a joint statement (June 24).
Without sidelining the â€œcomplexitiesâ€ in Indo-Pak relationship, after the meeting, Rao told media persons: â€œWe are inspired by our goal of the eventual normalization of the India-Pakistan relationship and the resolution of outstanding issues through peaceful, sustained and serious bilateral dialogue.â€ Spelling out Indiaâ€™s vision of bilateral ties with Pakistan, Rao asserted: â€œThe ideology of military conflict should have no place in the paradigm of our relationship in the 21st century. Indeed, this relationship should be characterized by the vocabulary of peace,â€ in the interest of â€œour peoplesâ€ and â€œin an atmosphere free of terror and violence.â€ She described the meeting, spread over two days, as â€œpositiveâ€ during which the two sides had â€œconstructive and substantive discussion.â€
â€œWe have had a very productive and constructive engagement which was forward looking and imbued with a sense of purpose,â€ Bashir said. He pointed out: â€œI must underscore here that the quality of the engagement really matters and we have every reason to be satisfied with that quality.â€ Earlier, while welcoming Rao, Bashir said: â€œWe welcome her for many reasons. It was some years ago that we started a process and I think that process is now well on its way.â€
The comments made by both Rao and Bashir are suggestive of India and Pakistanâ€™s keenness to continue their dialogue process with the aim of improving their bilateral ties. This is further highlighted by certain points included in the joint statement. The bilateral talks on peace and security, including confidence building measures (CBMs), Jammu & Kashmir as well as promotion of friendly exchanges were, according to the statement, â€œheld in a frank and cordial atmosphere.â€ The two sides â€œreiterated their intentionâ€ to continue â€œthe dialogue process in a constructive and purposeful manner.â€ They discussed the issues in a â€œcomprehensive mannerâ€ and both sides â€œemphasized the importance of constructive dialogue to promote mutual understanding,â€ the statement said. This suggests India and Pakistanâ€™s intention to backtrack from their stand of firing verbal missiles at each other, particularly on issues they entertain different stands on. This is further supported by their reference to the Kashmir-problem in the joint statement.
They â€œexchanged viewsâ€ on Kashmir and â€œagreed to continue discussions in a purposeful and forward looking manner with the view to finding a peaceful solution by narrowing divergences and building convergences,â€ according to the statement. This suggests that continuing dialogue on Kashmir is their priority and neither India nor Pakistan wants to the stall the bilateral dialogue process despite their entertaining differences on Kashmir. This is further supported by their agreement to consider measures for â€œstrengthening and streamlining the existing trade and travel arrangements across the Line-of-Control (LoC) and propose modalities for introducing additional cross-LoC CBMs.â€ A meeting of a working group on Cross-LoC is expected to be held this July, the statement said.
The statement on terrorism too indicates a major change in India and Pakistanâ€™s diplomatic stand towards each other. Refraining from blaming each other, they agreed that â€œterrorism poses a continuing threat to peace and security.â€ They â€œreiterated firm and undiluted commitmentâ€ to â€œfight and eliminate this scourge in all its forms and manifestations.â€ Besides, they agreed on the â€œneed to strengthen cooperation on counter-terrorism.â€
Defeating apprehensions of their being any nuclear tension between India and Pakistan, they decided to consider mutually acceptable measures to discuss implementation and strengthening of existing nuclear and conventional CBMS to â€œbuild trust and confidence and promote peace and security.â€
India and Pakistan expressed satisfaction on progress made on finalization of Visa Agreement, which will â€œhelp liberalize visa regimeâ€ and â€œfacilitate people-to-people, business-to-business and sports contacts,â€ the statement said. They also discussed measures to promote cooperation in various fields, which include, â€œfacilitating visits to religious shrines, media exchanges, holding sports tournaments and cessation of hostile propaganda against each other.â€ In addition, they agreed that â€œpeople of the two countries are at the heart of the relationship and that humanitarian issues should be accorded priority and treated with sensitivity.â€
The foreign secretaries are scheduled to meet again in New Delhi, ahead of the meeting Indian and Pakistani Foreign Ministers, which is expected to take place this July in the Indian capital city. Undeniably, the two foreign secretariesâ€™ comments and the joint statement indicate the seriousness of India and Pakistan to improve their bilateral ties at various levels. Now, it is to be watched whether this â€œconstructiveâ€ approach is seriously retained for a substantial period or not!