BeyondHeadlines News Desk
Islamabad: India and Pakistan yesterday wrapped up a fresh round of peace talks in Islamabad without any breakthrough other than an agreement to meet again in New Delhi ahead of ministerial talks next month.
Contacts between the two bitter nuclear-armed neighbours are nevertheless considered key to help easing tensions in South Asia.
The talks mark a revival of a tentative peace process, which collapsed for more than two years after gunmen killed 166 people in Mumbai in November 2008 in attacks that India blamed on Pakistani extremists.
The two days of talks were conducted by Indian Foreign Secretary Nirupama Rao and her Pakistani counterpart Salman Bashir, the highest-ranking career diplomats in their respective ministries.
A carefully worded joint statement listed no concrete agreement other than a commitment to meet again in New Delhi, at a date yet to be announced, to prepare for a pre-arranged foreign ministers’ meeting in July.
Nevertheless original plans for separate news conferences were scrapped in favour of a joint appearance. The atmosphere contrasted positively with acrimony at a foreign ministers’ news conference in Islamabad in July 2010.
The statement said talks were “frank and cordial” and that both sides intended to continue dialogue in a “constructive and purposeful manner”.
India and Pakistan announced in February that peace talks would resume after Bashir and Rao met in Bhutan. Talks have focused on the fate of the divided Himalayan region of Kashmir, peace and security and confidence building measures.
The two sides agreed to continue discussions on Jammu and Kashmir in a purposeful and forward looking manner with a view to finding a peaceful solution by narrowing divergences. Both the sides agreed on the need for promoting friendly exchanges between the two countries and noted with satisfaction the progress made towards finalisation of the visa agreement, which would help liberalise the visa regime and facilitate people-to-people, business-to-business and sports contacts.
Addressing a joint press conference after concluding the two-day talks, Foreign Secretary Salman Bashir and his Indian counterpart Nirupama Rao said the two sides discussed various issues in an open and constructive manner and termed the talks very positive.
They said they discussed security issues, terrorism, Jammu and Kashmir, confidence building measures (CBMs) and friendly exchanges.
The two foreign secretaries said they also discussed measures for promoting cooperation in various fields, including facilitating visits to religious shrines, media exchanges, holding of sports tournaments and cessation of hostile propaganda against each other. They said both the countries agreed to convene a meeting of the Working Group on Cross-LoC CBMs to recommend measures for strengthening and streamlining the existing trade and travel arrangements across the LoC (Line of Control) and propose modalities for introducing additional cross-LoC CBMs. They said the working group would meet next month.
Under the resumed dialogue process, the foreign secretaries of Pakistan and India met in Islamabad June 23-24 for bilateral talks on peace and security, including CBMs, Jammu and Kashmir and promotion of friendly exchanges and agreed that the foreign ministers of the two countries would meet in New Delhi in July.
Both the foreign secretaries said the talks were held in a frank and cordial atmosphere. Both the sides reiterated their intention to carry forward the dialogue process in a constructive and purposeful manner.
They also decided to convene separate expert level meetings on nuclear and conventional CBMs to discuss implementation and strengthening of existing arrangements and to consider additional measures, which are mutually acceptable, to build trust and confidence and promote peace and security.
The dates for the expert level meetings will be determined through diplomatic channels.
The foreign secretaries noted that both the countries recognise that terrorism poses a continuing threat to peace and security.
They reiterated the firm and undiluted commitment of two countries to fight and eliminate the scourge in all its forms and manifestations. They agreed on the need to strengthen cooperation on counter-terrorism.
The foreign secretaries agreed that the people of the two countries were at the heart of relationship and that humanitarian issues should be accorded priority and treated with sensitivity.
Salman Bashir said they were satisfied with the quality of talks, which were marked by understanding of each other’s sensitivities.
About Jammu and Kashmir, he said, the two countries had their well known positions but nevertheless they agreed to continue to further discuss the issue with a view to finding a common ground.
Replying to a question about the Mumbai attacks, Salman Bashir said the interior and home secretaries discussed the issue of terrorism comprehensively and there had been two-way communication on the issues involved. He said, “Pakistan understands concerns in India about Mumbai incident and we believe that the issue of terrorism requires objectivity and collaborative approach.”
Nirupama Rao said during their discussions they were guided by the vision of the prime ministers of Pakistan and India to build trust and confidence.
She was of the view that there was a need to take incremental steps to promote mutual confidence and understanding. She said, “We are inspired by the goal of eventual normalization of relations and resolution of the outstanding issues through peaceful ways and sustained bilateral dialogue.”
Rao said, “The shadow of violence has caused untold sufferings to our people and this should come to an end. The ideology of military conflict should have no place in the paradigm of our relationship in the 21st Century.”
She said, “The relationship should be characterised by vocabulary of peace and all-round cooperation in the interest of our people.”
Replying to a question about specifics of the Kashmir issue discussed in the meeting, the Indian foreign secretary said peace and reconciliation should be step by step. Both the countries had well known positions on this issue and there was need to further discuss it to find common ground for its solution.
She said, “We can discuss resolution of such complex issues in an atmosphere free of violence.” She said the Working Group on cross-LoC CBMs would discuss matters like increase in trading points, travel permits, banking facilities, bus transportation link and improving road connectivity.
Regarding incident of Samjotha Express bombing, Nirupama Rao said, “India has stated clearly that once investigation is complete, we will share the outcome with the Government of Pakistan.” About the Mumbai attacks, she said, the interior and home secretaries had very useful discussions on the issue.
Replying to a question, Nirupama Rao said they had useful discussion on the Mumbai incident, which was a follow-up of meetings earlier held between the home and interior secretaries of the two countries.
Nirupama Rao said, “We discussed the 26/11 incident and its trial and India conveyed its concern for a satisfactory closure, which will help the two countries move forward.”
Commenting on talks on the 26/11 incident, Secretary Salman Bashir said there has been two-way communication on the issue and that spirit prevailed during the talks, which will result in something useful. “We do understand concern of India about Mumbai.”