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Business News/ Politics / Policy/  India, Pakistan agree to resume bilateral dialogue

India, Pakistan agree to resume bilateral dialogue

Foreign secretaries will meet soon to decide the schedule and modalities of the comprehensive renewed dialogue

Advisor to Pakistan Prime Minister for foreign affairs Sartaj Aziz (right) shakes hands with foreign minister Sushma Swaraj after their meeting at the foreign ministry in Islamabad, Pakistan. Photo: ReutersPremium
Advisor to Pakistan Prime Minister for foreign affairs Sartaj Aziz (right) shakes hands with foreign minister Sushma Swaraj after their meeting at the foreign ministry in Islamabad, Pakistan. Photo: Reuters

New Delhi: India and Pakistan, after a hiatus of more than two years, have agreed to resume a “comprehensive bilateral dialogue" in order to improve bilateral relations, foreign minister Sushma Swaraj said on Wednesday.

“The two nations have decided to resume will be a new comprehensive bilateral dialogue," Swaraj told reporters in Islamabad after holding talks with Sartaj Aziz, the foreign affairs adviser to the Pakistan prime minister.

The foreign secretaries of the two nations will meet soon to decide the schedule and modalities of the comprehensive renewed dialogue, added Swaraj, who also called on Pakistan’s Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif.

According to analysts, the resumption of official dialogue was to be expected after the talks between the national security advisers (NSAs) of India and Pakistan—Ajit Doval and Naseer Janjua—in Bangkok on 6 December were deemed a success by both governments as well as the announcement by India that Swaraj would visit Pakistan, albeit for a regional conference.

The national security advisers’ talks came after a brief “pull aside" meeting between Prime Ministers Narendra Modi and Nawaz Sharif in Paris on 30 November on the sidelines of the United Nations Framework Conference on Climate Change.

According to C.U. Bhaskar, director at the New Delhi-based Society of Policy Studies think-tank, with the latest breakthrough, India and Pakistan are trying to instill “a certain degree of political traction into a dialogue that has been stalled and battered" many times.

A joint statement released after Wednesday’s talks said India’s core concern of terrorism will be discussed between the two national security advisers while counter terrorism and the Kashmir dispute— which is the core issue for Pakistan—will be discussed by other officials.

This is a departure from practice—terrorism and Kashmir have normally been discussed by the foreign secretaries of the two countries.

Wednesday’s carefully worded statement said that Swaraj and Aziz “condemned terrorism and resolved to cooperate to eliminate it... The Indian side was assured of the steps being taken to expedite the early conclusion of the Mumbai trial."

The two sides “accordingly agreed to a comprehensive bilateral dialogue and directed the foreign secretaries to work out the modalities and schedule of the meetings under the Dialogue"—the phrasing making it clear that it was only after India’s concerns on terrorism were taken on board that India agreed to resume regular dialogue with Pakistan.

The issues to be discussed are: peace and security, confidence building measures, the Kashmir dispute, the dispute over the Siachen glacier, the Sir Creek maritime boundary dispute, the disagreement over the Wullar Barrage/Tulbul Navigation Project, cooperation in the economic and commercial spheres, counter-terrorism, narcotics control, humanitarian issues, people to people exchanges and religious tourism.

“The template of the India-Pakistan dialogue process has been the same since 1947," Bhaskar said when asked to comment on the subjects listed for talks.

India and Pakistan had named their talks “Composite Dialogue" when they started discussions in this format in 2004.

The “Composite Dialogue" continued for four years till the 2008 Mumbai terrorist attacks resulted in India calling off the process.

Discussions resumed in 2011 with the process being named the “resumed dialogue" but this too tapered off after the killing of Indian soldiers in August 2013 by Pakistani troops along the Line of Control in Kashmir.

Several attempts to get the talks going after Prime Minister Modi assumed office last year ran aground.

India has been pressing Pakistan to act against terrorists, especially bring to book those India blames for planning and executing the 2008 Mumbai attacks. Pakistan on its part has been pressing India to start talks on the dispute over Kashmir.

However, the latest interaction between Modi and Sharif in Paris seems to have been successful in breaking fresh ground.

Bhaskar, however, sounded a word of caution on whether the comprehensive talks would be substantive as well.

“I have my doubts since the latter would warrant a lobotomy of the Pakistan army" that is believed to formulate policy on India, Afghanistan and the United States. India is of the view that the Pakistan army supports the use of terrorism as an instrument of state policy against India.

Sharing Bhaskar’s scepticism was former foreign secretary Kanwal Sibal who said that the “basic positions of India and Pakistan on key issues were very far apart."

The dialogue had started on the basis of India yielding to Pakistan’s demand that Kashmir be discussed along with terrorism, Sibal said referring to the NSA-level talks whose ambit was only to discuss terrorism but ended up covering Kashmir as well.

This also illustrated that a “strong nationalist government (like Modi’s) could not escape the realities of the India-Pakistan situation" and had to come back to the table for talks with Pakistan, Sibal said.

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Updated: 09 Dec 2015, 11:19 PM IST
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