Islamabad: Nuclear rivals India and Pakistan resumed official talks, the first time since a Pakistani government led by the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) took office, with external affairs minister Pranab Mukherjee linking any progress in the bilateral relationship to an “atmosphere free from terrorism, violence, or the threat of it”.
Mukherjee’s opening statement that implies India would only take any peace process forward if terrorism against India is halted, appeared to suggest a continuing hard line from New Delhi on this issue.
As he made the direct connection between an atmosphere “free from terrorism and violence” and taking the relationship forward in a spirit of “cooperation, trust and pragmatism”, Mukherjee also sounded much tougher than Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s comments on the Jaipur blasts last week. Singh had said that the blasts were designed to rupture the peace process with Pakistan.
External affairs minister Pranab Mukherjee (right) with Pakistan ambassador to India Shahid Malik after the former’s arrival at the military base in Rawalpindi on Tuesday (Photo: Reuters)
Mukherjee arrived here for talks with his counterpart, Shah Makhdoom Qureshi on Wednesday, following day-long conversations on Tuesday between the foreign secretaries of both India and Pakistan, Shivshankar Menon and Salman Bashir.
Menon, however, wouldn’t say much, preferring to reiterate old statements on how both sides were intent on narrowing differences on the Siachen glacier issue, where Indian soldiers have held the high ground since 1984 in what is considered by Pakistan as a violation of the Shimla Agreement; and Sir Creek, on which an agreement to fix the maritime boundary in the oil-rich mouth of the Arabian Sea is believed to have been finalized and is awaiting formal clearance.
Menon said India remains interested in trade between both countries becoming a way to strengthen ties. The talks also focused on improving the complicated “travel permit” system that was obstructing, instead of helping, passengers taking the bus from Srinagar to Muzaffarabad across the Line of Control (LoC) in Kashmir.
India would like to start two more bus routes, one along the LoC between Kargil and Skardu, and the other across the border between Jammu and Sialkot.
Mukherjee’s mission appears primarily to get a first-hand feel of the newly elected government in Pakistan, which already appears fragile as former prime minister Nawaz Sharif has withdrawn his ministers from the coalition. Sharif has said that his ministers will only return to the coalition when the judges deposed by President Pervez Musharraf are restored by the new government.
Mukherjee has already met Sharif as well as PPP’s Asif Zardari, widely considered to be the power behind the throne of Pakistan Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gillani. He will meet Musharraf on Wednesday.