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Expectations low as Indian foreign minister visits Pakistan

Publication Date : 07-09-2012

 

Eager to see their countries normalise bilateral ties, Pakistanis and Indians on the eve of the prime event in the peace dialogue — annual review meeting of the foreign ministers — seem content with the little progress made over the past two years even though a big leap forward to normal neighbourly relationship has kept eluding them.

Indian External Affairs Minister S. M. Krishna is due for a two-day visit today for a review meeting of the peace dialogue and co-chairing the plenary session of India-Pakistan Joint Commission.

Everyone’s keeping the expectations low from the high-profile visit that could witness signing of the revised visa regime and some minor steps towards trade facilitation. But, what’s significant is that they are keeping engaged.

The Pakistan People's Party (PPP) government has invested a lot in improving ties with India and the upcoming meetings, which would also lay the ground for a likely visit by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, present a key occasion of opportunity to achieve something substantive with regards to normalisation with India.

The peace dialogue was resumed last year after a two-and-a-half-year hiatus following the Mumbai attacks, but only after shedding the tag of "Composite Dialogue" under which the two sides had held five rounds from 2004 till suspension in 2008.

The areas in which India and Pakistan agreed to carry on their discussions were counter-terrorism; humanitarian issues; commercial and economic cooperation; Wullar Barrage/Tulbul navigation project; Sir Creek; Siachen; peace and security including confidence building measures (CBMs); Jammu and Kashmir; and promotion of friendly exchanges.

So far the only notable progress has been in the area of trade liberalisation. Even the much anticipated revised visa regime, which may be inked during Krishna’s trip, is more about trade than actually promoting people to people contacts.

“Pakistan has initiated the process of dialogue in the region. The dialogue is aimed at peaceful resolution of all outstanding disputes including the dispute of Jammu and Kashmir,” President Asif Ali Zardari said at Defence Day celebrations at the Joint Services Headquarters in a reference to the peace talks with India.

Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar, in her speech at the German Council on Foreign Relations, was more categorical about the initiatives taken by the government for normalising ties.

“History will bear witness to the level of effort exerted by this government to normalise the Pakistan-India relationship. As a democratic government, we have taken bold and unprecedented decisions. Granting the Most Favoured Nation (MFN) status by Pakistan to India has injected a new momentum into the Pakistan-India normalisation process.”

Both sides have taken major steps from improving trade ties. Pakistan has decided in principle to grant India MFN status from the start of next year and shifted to a negative list that permits trade in almost everything, except for 1,200 odd items.

India on the other hand has allowed investments by Pakistanis. Banks from both sides could be soon opening branches in each other’s countries.

Krishna, in a media interview, acknowledged the change.

India’s positive perception about the relationship is driven by the trade related steps taken by Pakistan. But, at the same time Delhi would not be loosening the pressure on Islamabad for prosecution of Mumbai attacks accused and dismantling of an India focused terror network alleged to be operating from Pakistan.

“I will take with me the message of serious intent of the government and people of India to resolve outstanding issues between India and Pakistan through dialogue in an atmosphere free from terror and violence,” Krishna said in the interview.

Vice-President of Jinnah Institute, Ambassador Aziz Ahmed Khan, said the last round had seen modest progress.

However, he noted that good atmospherics existed for strengthening the peace process. He is looking forward to both sides making incremental progress towards resolution of issues that have long bedevilled their relationship.

Executive Director of the Centre for International Strategic Studies, Amb Ali Sarwar Naqvi, said it was important that Krishna’s visit was taking place. He didn’t expect anything spectacular coming out of the visit other than signing of a new visa regime and trade related measures.

“There has been talk of other things, but not enough ground work has been done to achieve that.”

Indian journalist Rezaul Hassan Laskar, PTI correspondent in Islamabad, shared Khan and Naqvi’s assessment of the progress in peace dialogue.

“While nothing very significant is expected from the meeting, the fact that new liberalised visa regime could be signed during the visit augurs well for positive developments in the relationship.”

Formal talks between the foreign ministers of Pakistan and India would be held on Saturday. However, the foreign secretaries would meet today to prepare for the ministerial meeting.

Meanwhile, eight working groups held their meetings on Thursday for the Joint Commission meeting to be held tomorrow.

The Joint Commission established in 1983 remained dysfunctional during most part of its life. It was first revived in 2005 after remaining suspended for 16 years and again got inactive after 2007.

The sub-groups in their meetings on Wednesday explored cooperation in the fields of agriculture, health, education, science and technology, IT and telecommunications, environment, tourism and information.

 

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