Move beyond pullbacks

Perhaps the stage has come where the two neighbouring and contiguous countries are thinking of their relationship to grow beyond the diktat of disputes. This means two things; one is that mutual and long-standing disputes need to be solved through dialogue, and the second is that a vast panorama of mutual friendship, cooperation and collaboration lies beyond the disputes that have plagued the two countries for so many decades. The outcome of the recent review meeting between the Foreign Ministers of India and Pakistan in Islamabad is an indication that although no substantive change in the quality of talks can happen overnight but, of course, there is strident urge on both sides for opening a new chapter in bilateral relations.

In all probability, it is assumed that there is some thinking at policy planning level in Pakistan that long standing hostility towards India will not be in their interests. In order to translate this positive thinking into practice, policy planners in Pakistan needed time and space to handle internal obstruction and external compulsions. While talking to an Indian journalist on the eve of her meeting with Mr. Krishna, Pakistan Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar very emphatically said that “Pakistan Army had been taken on board and there was no question about it.” For long what usually complicated the progress of Indo-Pak dialogue was the domineering role of General Headquarters (GHQ) at Pakistan Foreign Ministry’s India desk. Some friendly countries interested in rapprochement between the two nuclear powers in the sub-continent had gone even to the length of suggesting India to open direct channels of dialogue with the GHQ. Thanks to matured statesmanship at the North Block that it did not succumb to the temptation.

This ground for dialogue has to be traversed step by step. Reviewing the progress of bilateral dialogue at various levels, indentifying the issues, handling each of these in a selective manner by detaching each from the entire plethora of disputes and finding a solution in a spirit of cooperation is the philosophy of strategic dialogue between the two countries. Steps like Pakistani President announcing immediate release of Indian fishermen in Pakistan prisons or the two countries signing agreement of making the visa regime easier and opening the prospect for cultural exchanges are actually precursors to confidence building measures, mutual good will and trust so that more elusive issues can also be tackled. Since people to people contact is considered a vital confidence building measure, scripting new visa regime was seen by both sides as a priority.

The new pact replaces a 38-year-old restrictive visa agreement. It will pave the way for time-bound visa approval and greater people to people contacts and boost trade. Under the new regime, one can visit five places instead of the three at present and those above 65 years of age and children below 12 years of age and “eminent” businessmen are exempted from police reporting…Under the category of Visitor visa, earlier only single entry visa for three months used to be issued for meeting relatives, friends, business or other legitimate purpose. Moreover, visa could be only issued for longer period not exceeding one year if owing to the nature of work or business. The new Group Tourist visa will be issued for not less than 10 people and not more than 50 people. This visa will be valid for 30 days and will have to be applied through tour operators, registered by the two Governments.

Maintaining that the talks were “cordial, candid and in constructive atmosphere”, the Ministers reviewed the status of bilateral relations and expressed satisfaction on the holding of meetings on all major outstanding issues…

The new mantra for the two countries should be that of addressing outstanding bilateral issues from new perspectives and perceptions. In the new world order defence pact and alliances have yielded place to trade and commerce. In the new world order India and Pakistan, two nuclear countries, will be required to play a crucial role in maintaining peace in the region.

In their joint press statement, the two Ministers have said that terrorism poses serious threat to peace and stability of the region. This is indirect recognition by Pakistan that it is determined to take the 26/11 to its logical conclusion. Terrorism has spread its tentacles deep and wide in Pakistan. Controlling and eradicating terror lock, stock and barrel is easier said than done. Perhaps Pakistan had not that experience. But now that all the three wings of Pakistan’s defence forces have come under terrorist attack at one or the other place, the impact is significantly palpable in Pakistan Army. It is engaged in deadly clashes with the jihadis in Waziristan and other parts of the country. The home-bred Taliban are a nightmare which Pakistani security forces are struggling to contain. This leaves no scope for Pakistan to be complacent about India’s demand for bringing the culprits of 26/11 to book.

It will also be noted that Jammu and Kashmir does not remain the “core issue” in bilateral talks as is usually demanded by Pakistan. Even a mention of the core issue in relevant documents does not necessarily mean that Pakistan wants to hinge all bilateral talks on resolving Kashmir dispute. There is definite realization within Pakistani ruling circles about some facts of Kashmir issue. They know that UN Security Resolutions on Kashmir are outdated and hence irrelevant; that three wars and a long ranging proxy war could not win them Kashmir; that fomenting armed insurgency in Kashmir has boomeranged on them in many ways, and they are also aware that Kashmir issue has exposed them before the world community.

Finally we hope that more significant progress will be recorded in bilateral relations between India and Pakistan in the spirit of new thinking before Indian Prime Minister finds time ripe to visit Pakistan and put his seal on a lasting solution to many elusive issues. Let us move beyond the pullbacks of existing disputes between us and Pakistan.

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