Top diplomats from Pakistan and India on Friday concluded their two-day talks without any major breakthrough on the longstanding Kashmir dispute after New Delhi said the issue cannot be resolved under “the shadow of the gun.”
However, the parleys between Foreign Secretary Salman Bashir and his Indian counterpart Nirupama Rao produced some positive results with both sides agreeing to work on new nuclear-related Confidence Building Measures (CBMs) and expand trade and travel across the Line of Control, a ceasefire line that separates the Indian and Pakistani controlled parts of Kashmir.
A joint statement issued after the talks said the two foreign secretaries discussed the issue of Jammu and Kashmir and agreed to continue negotiations with an aim to narrow down their differences.
The talks on Kashmir were the first over the last three years, but as expected, were marred by the controversy surrounding the investigations into the Mumbai attacks.
The two sides attempted to dispel the negativity surrounding the talks as the foreign secretaries dropped their original plans to address a separate news conference in favour of a joint appearance.
At the news conference with Bashir, Indian Foreign Secretary Nirupama Rao insisted that a step-by-step approach is needed for peace and reconciliation.
“We must do away with the shadow of the gun and extremist violence because it’s only in an atmosphere free of terror and violence that we can discuss to resolve such a complex issue,” was Rao’s response when asked for comments on the progress made with regard to the Kashmir dispute.
Referring to the trial of suspects in the Mumbai attacks by Pakistan, she said India needed “satisfactory closure” in order to proceed with the process of normalising ties.
But she described the agreement on strengthening and expanding the existing CBMs related to the Kashmir problem as an important step.
“I have always maintained that people are at the heart of our relationship and we must help the people of Jammu and Kashmir to connect with each other, to trade, to travel more easily,” she added.
On his part, Foreign Secretary Salman Bashir said Pakistan did understand Indian concerns on the Mumbai incident.
“We hope and expect that the issue of terrorism requires objectivity…requires to be addressed in collaborative approach,” he added.
Earlier, a joint statement read out by Foreign Office spokesperson Tehmina Janjua said the talks were held in a frank and cordial atmosphere.
The two sides decided to convene separate expert level meetings on nuclear and conventional CBMs to discuss implementation and strengthening of existing arrangements and to consider additional measures.
The foreign secretaries noted that both countries recognise that terrorism poses a continuing threat to peace and security and they reiterated the firm and undiluted commitment of the two countries to fight and eliminate this scourge in all its forms and manifestations.
According to the statement, both sides agreed to the need for promoting friendly exchanges between the two countries.
They noted with satisfaction the progress made towards finalisation of the visa agreement which will help liberalise the visa regime and facilitate people-to-people, business-to-business and sports contacts.
While reports from Indian newspapers Hindustan Times and Indian Express also focused on the Kashmir dispute not being resolved under the “shadow of gun,” The Times of India reported that India has raised the issue of Pakistan’s chief spy agency Inter-Services Intelligence’s links with the Mumbai attacks.
The foreign secretaries will meet again in New Delhi, on a date to be decided through diplomatic channels, to prepare for the meeting of the foreign ministers in New Delhi next month.
Published in The Express Tribune, June 25th, 2011.