By Anita Joshua for The Hindu
Guarded optimism was the dominant mood here on Friday as India and Pakistan prepared for the foreign ministerial engagement on Saturday, capping the second round of the resumed dialogue process which till date has had little to show by way of results on the ground except a concerted effort on both sides to avoid hostile rhetoric.
But the improved atmospherics in which these talks are taking place is itself being flagged as an improvement in a relationship that is evolving on a slow burn mode; inching forward to dismantle the mechanisms of distrust built over six decades.
Though both Foreign Ministers were careful enough not to raise expectations in their interactions with the media, Interior Minister Rehman Malik in the evening announced that the visa agreement would be signed on Saturday. As of now, External Affairs Minister S.M. Krishna is scheduled to go to the Interior Ministry on Saturday to sign the agreement.
Ahead of the engagement, Pakistan also facilitated consular access to Sarabjit Singh, death row inmate in Punjab’s Kot Lakpat Jail. Amid reports suggesting that his life was under threat on the jail premises, he was granted consular access on Thursday; a day ahead of Mr. Krishna’s arrival. During his meeting with President Asif Ali Zardari, the Minister urged him to consider Sarabjit Singh’s mercy petition.
Another agreement on the cards pertains to cross-Line of Control confidence building measures. These include facilitating cross-LoC trade and travel, multiple entry permits, strengthening infrastructure in both Kashmirs, better communication links between the two sides and group tourism permits across the LoC.
Earlier in the day, Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar, in a series of interactions with the media, stressed the need for India to have a more practical approach vis-à-vis the progress of the Mumbai terror attacks case trial here as the matter was now in court. And, to persistent references to the Mumbai terror attack trial, she flagged the Samjhauta Express blast issue, trying to once again draw a similarity between the two.
Maintaining that Pakistan had a region-first approach in foreign relations, she said a better and deeper relationship would eventually lead the two countries to ways and means to resolve all bilateral disputes, including the status of Jammu and Kashmir.
Upon arrival, Mr. Krishna reiterated India’s desire to see a stable and prosperous Pakistan living in peace with itself and the world. “That would be in the best interest of everyone,” he said. “We are committed to finding solutions for all issues that have beset our relationship through peaceful bilateral dialogue, while we look to the future where our two countries are able to live together in an atmosphere of friendliness and all-round cooperation, free from terror and violence.”
Mr. Krishna also called on Prime Minister Raja Parvez Ashraf and met leaders of all constituents of the ruling coalition. During the meeting with the premier, both sides acknowledged that no country could afford to choose its neighbours and peaceful coexistence was the only option.