At Talks, Pakistan, India Close the Gap

By Anita Joshua for The Hindu

Conscious of the historical baggage, but unwilling to be burdened by it, India and Pakistan on Thursday inched closer to each other during the Foreign Secretary-level talks here and both sides held out the possibility of some tangible outcome after the July 15 ministerial engagement.

However, both Foreign Secretaries refused to be drawn into chalking out a road map or identifying goal posts. “There is a constituency for peace in both countries, and we should avoid stock phrases like road map,” Foreign Secretary Nirupama Rao said at a “joint press stakeout” here, shortly after spending a greater part of the morning with her Pakistan counterpart Salman Bashir.

The talks, according to Mr. Bashir, began as an exploratory venture, but “after this round, we are much more optimistic of good prospects at the Foreign Ministers meeting.” He summed up the talks as a “good essay in mutual comprehension,” a phrase he admitted to have borrowed from Ms. Rao.

Optimism apart, both conceded that this would be a protracted process that may not yield quick results, but decided to work on the doables in the interim. As to how they proposed to insulate the process from another freeze in relations in the eventuality of a flashpoint, Ms. Rao said this would also be a subject of discussion.

The first indication of some forward movement came with the announcement of the “joint press stakeout” soon after the talks had wound up, and the Foreign Secretaries were breaking bread in the Foreign Office.

In his opening remarks, Mr. Bashir said the two sides decided to work towards restoring confidence and building trust to make it possible for a comprehensive, sustained and substantial dialogue.

Speaking in a similar vein, Ms. Rao described the talks as forward-looking with both sides trying to understand each other’s position. “We reflected on the modalities for restoring trust and confidence to pave the way for a comprehensive, sustained and meaningful dialogue in all areas. We have agreed that dialogue is the best way forward.”

Asked whether terrorism was discussed, she said both sides agreed that terrorists must be denied the opportunity to derail the process of dialogue while pointing out that Pakistan Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani had made an important commitment when he told his counterpart that efforts would be made to ensure that the Pakistani soil was not used for attacks on India.

Unlike in the past, when the two countries appeared to be speaking at cross purposes, this time the Foreign Secretaries seemed to complement each other.

If Ms. Rao deftly side-stepped a leading question on India’s reluctance to continue with composite dialogue by saying there was no issue over nomenclature, Mr. Bashir returned the favour by echoing this remark and refusing to be drawn into commenting on why Pakistan was not raising the issue of Indian-sponsored terrorism in Balochistan.

Instead, he broad-brushed the issue, stating that terrorism impacted Pakistan and was a concern to the region and the world. “Essentially, we have agreed to move from the rhetoric to the ways and means of addressing these concerns,” he said.

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