Baqir Sajjad Syed
Islamabad, 9 September 2012. Notwithstanding the bonhomie exhibited at the Foreign Office on Saturday at the conclusion of the foreign ministers’ meetings, it was more than apparent that both sides were dissatisfied for their set of core issues not having been addressed adequately over the past two years.
Landing a deal over visas, signing the MoU on cultural cooperation or adoption of new confidence-building measures on cross-LoC trade and travel may all be the steps in the right direction, but absence of big-ticket catalysts like prosecution of Mumbai attacks suspects by Pakistan, resolution of some of the doables like Siachen, Sir Creek and water disputes may cause the process to lose momentum.
Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar, speaking at a joint press conference with her Indian counterpart S. M. Krishna at the Foreign Office, called for forging ahead without being held hostage to the past.
“We are willing to forge ahead with a different future which is people-centric, which is development-centric, which is centric to the common citizens of India and Pakistan, which is committed to creating stakeholders in the economic interests and the future of the two countries,” Ms Khar said, noting bygones are bygones and that “we will not be held hostage to history”.
But hardly an hour later, Mr Krishna told Indian journalists accompanying him that “what happened in the immediate past (2008 Mumbai attacks), we cannot forget it, we cannot gloss over it”.
He, at the joint press conference, all but said that Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh’s visit to Pakistan on the invitation of President Zardari was unlikely. “Right atmosphere has to be created for the trip” and that there should be a concrete outcome, he said without mincing words.
But he denied that India was setting pre-conditions for the visit that many analysts see as very important for giving the much needed impetus to the nascent peace process.
Afterwards, an Indian journalist quoted Mr Krishna as having told Indian newsmen that Pakistani invitation was just an invitation. “We are at that point.”
Mr Krishna, on his return to Delhi, is due to give his assessment of the status of Pakistan-India ties to Prime Minister Singh on the basis of which he would decide whether or not to undertake the Pakistan trip.
The joint statement while expressing the desire of the two foreign ministers to continue with the dialogue obliquely makes a reference to the unresolved issues.
And so did Foreign Minister Khar. In her rather longish opening remarks at the press conference, she reminded the Indians about making simultaneous progress in all eight segments that the two countries are discussing in the peace dialogue resumed last year.
“The two sides exchanged views on Siachen, Sir Creek and Wullar Barrage/Tulbul Navigation Project, agreed that there is the need to effectively address these issues by finding mutually acceptable solutions and reiterated their commitment to do so.
They also reaffirmed the importance of abiding by the provisions of the Indus Waters Treaty,” the joint statement said.
Separately, the statement said: “The ministers noted the commitment given by Pakistan during the Interior/ Home Secretary talks in May 2012 to bring all the perpetrators of the Mumbai terror attacks to justice expeditiously in accordance with due process of law.”
Despite President Zardari’s call for moving beyond the reiteration of stated positions, it was obvious that the two sides remained stuck to them even though there may have been slight change in the nuances.
A senior Pakistani diplomat, in a background interview with Dawn, too underscored the need for India to address the substantive issues of Siachen, Sir Creek and Kashmir and water disputes.
The Pakistani side is said to have given a paper to India on water issues asking it to abide by the provisions of the Indus Waters Treaty.
A source disclosed that the Pakistani side forcefully raised the issue of Indian involvement in Balochistan unrest and demanded sharing of information in the Samjhauta Express bombing probe.
Another source dismissed India’s demand for expeditious prosecution of Mumbai attacks suspects as a ritual. “Their non-seriousness was evident from the fact that they did not even raise the issue of Mumbai plotter Abu-Jindal, whose arrest was celebrated a lot and used to malign Pakistani institutions,” he stressed and added that the Pakistani side raised the matter.
Indians, it is said, were asked to refrain from talking on terrorism with Pakistan through the media.
“It is a serious issue that needs to be dealt with through quite and candid diplomacy,” the source quoted a Pakistani negotiator as having conveyed.
Kashmir CBMS: The two sides importantly agreed on a number of additional confidence-building measures related to Kashmir, which included expanding cross-LoC travel to include tourism and religious pilgrimage; respecting the list of 21 products of permissible items for cross-LoC trade; exchanging business delegations; and a number of other facilitation measures.
The joint working group on cross-LoC CBMs will meet on a bi-annual basis to review existing arrangements and suggest additional CBMs and measures for cross-LoC travel and trade, the joint statement said.
Moreover, separate meetings of the Expert Groups on Nuclear and Conventional CBMs have been convened in the second half of December 2012 in New Delhi.