Prime Minister Manmohan Singh might at last realize his dream to visit Pakistan, which may be scheduled later this year, even as both sides agreed that trade holds the key to improve bilateral relations so that sticky issues such as Kashmir can be dealt with.
Trade talks: External affairs minister Pranab Mukherjee (left) and his Pakistani counterpart Shah Mehmood Qureshi at a press conference in Islamabad on Wednesday.
After day-long talks between foreign ministers Pranab Mukherjee and Shah Makhdoom Qureshi, both nations also agreed that the new dialogue should focus on improving contact between the people of the two countries.
“Pakistan is ready for a grand reconciliation; we have to sit and talk,” Qureshi, who belongs to the newly-elected Pakistan Peoples Party-led coalition in Pakistan, told a press conference. “Pakistan is serious and wants to move forward.” Mukherjee was more circumspect in his use of language, preferring to push utilitarian ideas such as trade and investment to improve contacts.
“The whole world is moving towards globalization. We need cement; Pakistan has been good enough to offer it,” Mukherjee said. He added that both sides had decided to expand rail links across the Wagah frontier, and install a conveyer belt to easily transport cement in large quantities to India.
Invoking the example of Sino-Indian relations, which he admitted was beset with long-simmering border disputes, Mukherjee pointed at the trade between India and China that has touched $40 billion, and now targets $60 billion by 2010.
Mukherjee implied that India and Pakistan could continue discussing the Kashmir dispute even as they improved bus services and pushed trade, both across the line of control in Kashmir and other places on the border.
Analysts said the Indian foreign minister’s use of the China example in Pakistan was “interesting,” considering Beijing is supposed to be Islamabad’s closest friend and ally.
Mukherjee, however, placed the end to terrorism and violence on the top of India’s agenda, but the mood was different on Wednesday.
There was a sense that the Congress party and the Pakistan Peoples Party, both of which have progressive visions for their respective nations, should push their bureaucracies to move on.
But Qureshi wasn’t giving in to Mukherjee’s charm offensive on trade so soon.
He pointed out that Kashmir remained a “core dispute,” and that relations could only become normal if there was simultaneous movement on Kashmir.
“Kashmiris will benefit hugely if measures like trade and bus services are enhanced,” Qureshi said, “but alongside, we must give importance to the core dispute.”
He said that Pakistan had given a good package to India on resolving the Siachen issue, where soldiers from both sides could honourably come down from the heights, which was “worth considering.”
Mukherjee was having none of it. “We have made some progress (on Siachen),” he said, “but there is no solution.” In fact, it was Qureshi who announced Manmohan singh’s visit to Pakistan, “sometime this year.” Mukherjee, sitting right next to him, did not comment.