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Volume XLIV, No.48

Indo-Pak : Positive Direction

Editorial

Tuesday 24 April 2007

The two-day Foreign Secretary-level talks have ended on a positive note. The two sides, as expected, have formally decided to set up a three-member-a-side anti-terror mechanism with Additional Secretaries in the two Foreign Offices in New Delhi and Islamabad heading the mechanism on behalf of the two countries.

The success of the talks in the Indian capital further lay in the detailed discussions that the Foreign Secretaries and their respective delegations conducted on various issues beyond terrorism—notably Kashmir and Siachen. Though no agreement was reached on Siachen (contrary to what the Pakistan Foreign Minister had claimed sometime back), the Pakistani reluctance to authenticate the ground reality was indeed the main stumbling block—something that will gradually dawn on Islamabad with the passage of time.

However, some other small steps were taken in these resumed talks at the Foreign Secretary level. Both countries agreed to hold quarterly flag meetings of local Army commanders and also initialled an agreement on reducing the risks from accidents relating to nuclear weapons. The overriding importance of such an agreement does not bear emphasis.

A Joint Statement issued at the end of the talks also referred to the following:

They exchanged views on the issue of Jammu and Kashmir in the spirit of the Havana joint press statement [of September 16] to hold purposeful discussions .. they agreed to fully implement measures to enhance interaction and cooperation across the LoC [Line of Control], including the early operationalisation of [a] truck service for trade on agreed items.
Moreover it was agreed that “all fishermen and prisoners” of the “other country” whose national status has been confirmed and who have completed their sentences would be released by December 25.

This was not all. The Foreign Secretaries further agreed to promote friendly exchanges. They agreed on the need for early affiliation of an updated visa agreement. In addition, it was agreed to expand the list of shrines under the 1974 bilateral promotocal on visits to religious shrines.

On Sir Creek it was decided that experts from both sides will meet on December 22 and 23 to determine the “coordinates for the joint survey of Sir Creek and adjoining areas, without prejudice to each other’s position, as well as to simultaneously conduct discussions on the maritime boundary”.
And it was also agreed upon that the fourth round of the composite dialogue will take place in February 2007 in Islamabad. Besides, External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee would undertake a visit to Pakistan either in December or January.

Of course, there is no dearth of cynics some of whom have suddenly turned hostile to the whole process of improving bilateral Indo-Pak relations. Their exasperation over the Pakistani reticence to clamp down on terror being nurtured within that country is understandable and justified. But for that one should not allow one’s vision to be impaired. The peoples of India and Pakistan have to live together as good neighbours, as the Indian Foreign Secretary aptly underscored. That is precisely why the official level talks, stalled since the 7/11 serial train blasts in Mumbai, assume such deep significance. And one of the basic tasks at the meet this time was handing over evidence of Pakistani involvement in terror attacks in this country for Islamabad to act upon—this too was of inestimable value.

The peoples of the two neighboring countries have been cooperating with each other in various fields despite all the complexities. This was once more clearly visible at the just concluded India Social Forum (ISF 2006) where sizeable numbers of friends from Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nepal actively and enthusiastically participated with the Indian delegates.

It is too early to predict how things would shape up on the Indo-Pak front in the days ahead. But what can be safely concluded after the New Delhi talks is that antipathy between the two governments is gradually giving way to cooperation and understanding.

The peoples of the two states have the bounden duty to sustain this process to the best of their ability. That is precisely why the interactions among Pakistanis and Indian witnessed at the ISF 2006 need to be intensified in the near future not only for their mutual benefit but in the interest of South Asian solidarity as well.

November 16 S.C.

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