New Delhi: Signalling a thaw in their frozen ties since the Mumbai terror attacks on 26 November 2008, India’s Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and his Pakistani counterpart Yousuf Raza Gilani held direct talks in the Bhutanese capital Thimpu and decided to move ahead with the peace process.
At a meeting on the sidelines of the eight-nation South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (Saarc) meeting, both leaders said their countries should keep the channels of dialogue open to restore “trust and confidence”. The foreign ministers of both countries will meet soon to chalk out a road map for future talks.
Experts’ opinion is divided. While one foreign policy expert said the move was significant as it is high time to resume dialogue, another said this would be an “asymmetric dialogue” because India was not in talks with the people who are responsible for terrorism against India.
Indian foreign secretary Nirupama Rao told reporters in Thimpu: “India expressed its willingness to discuss all issues of concern with Pakistan and to resolve all outstanding issues through dialogue, but pointed out that terrorism was holding back progress on all issues.”
This was the first such meeting after Singh and Gilani met at Sharm-el-Sheikh in Egypt on 16 July, when a joint statement that followed triggered a major controversy in India as it had delinked composite peace talks from terrorism. New Delhi had been refusing talks with Islamabad, saying that the latter was not doing enough to contain terrorist activities emanating from its soil against India. India broke off peace negotiations with Pakistan after the Mumbai attacks that left at least 166 dead.
Pakistan foreign minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi told a news conference that the meeting between the two leaders ended on a positive note and he would be engaging with his Indian counterpart S.M. Krishna at an appropriate time. He also welcomed home minister P. Chidambaram to Islamabad on 26 June for the Saarc home ministers’ meet.
Rao said Singh and Gilani agreed that their respective foreign ministers would work out the modalities to create trust and confidence in the relationship and for a substantive dialogue “in which all matters of concern” would be discussed. The dates of the meeting are not finalized yet.
According to Salman Haider, India’s former foreign secretary, Thursday’s move would not create any stir in India as it had in July 2009 because “the situation is more conducive and the leaders are proceeding more cautiously”.
He also rubbished reports that India and Pakistan had taken the decision to resume talks under pressure from the US. “I do not believe for a minute that it is happening under any pressure from the US. India is not a country which can be pushed in a matter close to its heart.”
However, Brahma Chellaney, professor of strategic studies, Centre for Policy Research, a Delhi-based think tank, was not so optimistic. “India is talking to the wrong people—the civilian leadership which is not responsible for terrorism. The impediment for peace is terrorism and the military leadership which is responsible for fomenting terrorism against India is not in dialogue with India. This is asymmetric dialogue,” he said.
Bloomberg also contributed to this story.