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Visit of Hina Rabbani Khar :Creating history beyond the pale of history

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The series of Secretary level meetings that had taken place between India and Pakistan within a span of a few months, starting with the meeting between the Home/Interior Secretaries and concluding with the Foreign Secretary level talks paved the way for the visit of Pakistani Minister of Foreign Affairs, Ms. Hina Rabbani Khar to India andher meeting with the India External Affairs Minister, S.M.Krishna. Scarred once again by terror at- tacks on its financial capital justpriorto the Pakistani Minister’s visit, India showed maturity by rolling out the red carpet to its neighbor and not allowing the recent Mumbai attacks once again derail the dialogue process.

 

A review of the bilateral dialogue process at the Secretarial level was done by the two Ministers, who expressed satisfaction at theprogress made on the issues of 1) counter - terrorism (including the trials of the 26/11 Mumbai terror attacks), 2) narcotics control, 3)humanitarian issues, such as the release of prisoners inadvertently trapped in the jails of the two countries, 4) commercial and economic cooperation, 5) Wullar barrage/Tulbul navigation project, 6) Sir Creek, 7) Siachen, 8) peace and security, including different Confidence- Build- ing Measures (CBMs), 9) Jammu and Kashmir, and 10) promotion of friendly exchanges, such as easing visa related procedures thus facilitating people- to- people contact.

The two Ministers talked peace as they reiterated the importance of carrying forward the dialogue process and resolving all outstanding issues through peaceful means, by engaging each other in constructive and result- oriented talks with the ultimate intention of establishing cooperative, good neighborly relations. Reference to terrorism was brief and somewhat clichéd with the Ministers noting in the joint statement that terrorism posed a continuing threat to peace and security and committing themselves to fighting it in all its forms and manifestations. The word ‘terrorism’ has been interpreted differently by the two countries. By including the term ‘all its forms and manifestations’, the statement ensured that either side had enough latitude to interpret the term in a manner that suited them. India’s main concern has been the terror directed at it from Pakistani soil with effective Pakistani state backing. Pakistan, which has recently bled from multiple and frequent terror attacks from radical, anti- US outfits which appear determined to punish the nation for its forced support to the US in its war on terror,has pointed out to India and the interna- tional community that itis no less a victim of terror than its eastern neigh- bor. Pakistanhas also, though with- outevidence and rather churlishly, pointed its finger at the Indiangov- ernment and its externalintelligence agency, theResearch and Analysis Wing(R&AW) for sponsoring terror attacks in its turbulentBalochistan province. Though abilateral terror mechanism exists between India and Pakistan, the mutual distrust between the countries has rendered such mech- anism rather ineffective. This prompt- ed the two leaders to underscore the need for sustained bilateral efforts to enable the building up of a relation of trust and mutually beneficial cooper- ation. Apparently such trustwillbe fostered through bettercontacts and interactionsbetween the people of bothsides, with the statement refer- ring to their yearning for peaceand development as a check for terrorism and violence. The perpetrators of ter- ror crimes need to be brought to jus- ticeand for that there has to be im- proved counter- terrorismcoopera- tion, especially betweenthe relevant departments and agencies. Two such agencies are India’s R&AW and Paki- stan’sISI, who at present view each other as foes. For bringing the agents of terror to justice, it is first necessary to identify them. This is a job that has to be done by the intelligence and in- vestigative agencies of the two coun- tries. For doing the job effectively, in- telligence inputs and investigative ev- idence needs to be shared. Such shar- ing is only possible if there is the min- imum semblance of trust between the concerned agencies without which the agencies and their governments may engage only in blame gamewithout making any concrete headway in punishing the executors of terrorism.

To build up an environment of trust, it was decided to set up institutional mechanisms that would look into the process of releasing prisoners and fish- ermenof each country, lockedup in the jails of the other. Accordingly, the JudicialCommitteeofPrisoners, whichwas set up to look intothis matter gave the following recommen- dations:

  1. early repatriation of prisoners whocompleted their sentences and whose travel documents are available;
  2. adoption of a humane approach in dealing with cases of fishermen, wom- en, elderly, juvenile prisoners, terminally ill prisoners or those suffering from serious illness or physical/ men- tal disability; and
  3. monitoring the welfare of prisoners so as to ensure their humane treatment. The Ministers gave their stamp of approval to the recommendations.

Confidence Building Measures (CBMs) are the key to peace and security and hence the duo agreed to convene separate meetings of the Expert Groups on Nuclear and Conventional CBMs in Islamabad in September 2011. The thorny issue of Jammu & Kashmir in itself occupied very little space in the joint statement. The two sides agreed to continue discussions with the objective of reaching a peaceful solution by narrowing divergences and building up on convergences. Rather, the Ministers concentrated on facilitating trade and travel across the Line of Control (LOC) as a means of easing tensions by facilitating trade and people- to- people ties between the Kashmiris on either side of the LOC

The following measures have been proposed to facilitate cross- LOC trade:

  1. A list of 21 products of permissible items for cross- LOC trade will be re- spected by the two countries. A Work- ing Group will review the list to in- clude more permissible items.
  2. Adequate facilities will be provided at the respective facilitation cen- ters on either side.
  3. The number of trading days has been increased from 2 days a week to 4 days a week. On those days, truck movement will take place both on Sri- nagar - Muzaffarabad and Poonch- Rawalakot routes.
  4. Operational issues with respect to cross- LOC trade will be resolved by the Designated Authorities through regular interaction.
  5. Facilitation of regular interaction between the Chambers of Commerce and traders on either side.
  6. Strengthening of existing telephone communication facilities.
  7. Holding meetings of the Designated Authorities alternately at the Terminal of the Crossing Points on both sides of the LOC every quarter or as and when required.

The following decisions were taken with respect to cross- LOC travel:

  1. Cross- LOC travel would be expanded so as to include religious pilgrimage and tourism. The modalities would be worked out by both sides.
  2. Facilities at the operational crossing points, such as waiting area, terminal and clearing procedures will be streamlined by both sides for smooth
    cross- LOC travel.
  3. Cross-LOC bus services between Srinagar- Muzaffarabad and Poonch-Rawalakot routes will run on Mon- days from now onwards.
  4. Application forms and relevant documents with respect to cross- LOC travel will be exchanged throughe-mail between Designated Authorities on both sides. Such mail transfers would be backed up by hard copies of such exchanges.
  5. Processing time for applications will be expedited and will at no time be more than 45 days.
  6. Coordination meetings will be held between the Des- ignated Authorities at the terminals alternately on either side of the LOC on a quarterly basis or when considered necessary.

The baggage of mutual mistrust between the two nations have so far hampered their trade relations with Pakistan refusing the Most Favored Nation (MFN) status to India and meting out discriminatory treatment to the latter’s goods. The Foreign Ministers have recognized the fact that increased trade and commerce was in the interest of both countries but for that to happen, it was necessary to estab- lish a non- discriminatory bilateral trade regime, wherein tariff and non- tariff barriers were either removed or re- duced to a minimal. The steps taken by the Commerce Secretaries in Islamabad in April 2011 to facilitate trade and reduce imbalances were noted by the Ministers with satisfaction. The leaders of the countries continued to car- ry on the Secretary level meetings on the issues being negotiated in the dialogue statement. They also acknowl- edged the importance of the people on both sides of the border and the LOC in improving bilateral relations. Con- sidering the common people of the two countries to be at the heart of the relationship, the leaders decided to accord topmost priority to humanitarian issues such as the final- ization of a revised Visa agreement which would usher in a liberalized visa regime, people- to- people, business- to- business and sports contacts.

Despite the fact that there has been very little change in Pakistan’s stance vis-à-vis its sponsorship of terror to In- dia, there is little doubt that bilateral talks between the neighbors have progressed. Much of this is because the Indian political and diplomatic leadership has not allowed itself to be swayed by the enormous public opinion that demands the freezing of ties following every single terror attack on the country’s soil.

It also shows a sense of determination on the part of India to decouple the dialogue process from the issue of cross- border terrorism. While India will do whatever it has to diplomatically and from the security point of view, it will continue engaging with Pakistan not only on the issue of terrorism but also on other outstanding issues. On the one hand, it can continue building up international diplomatic pressure on Pakistan and make it act against its home grown terror infrastructure.
On the other, it can continue the dialogue process thus earning the approval and goodwill of not only the inter- national community but also that of ordinary Pakistanis, who have nothing to do with the country’s policy making. Besides, disengagement with Pakistan at a time when that nation’s very nationhood is under threat from terrorism itself is perhaps not a very viable option. Pakistan is like a wounded creature, which seeks solace from its wounds by hurting its neighbor. Engagement with necessary stric- tures, rather than open hostility is the best way to deal with such a volatile neighbour.