Having already captured the imagination of many in Pakistan, Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar arrived in New Delhi on Tuesday to a warm welcome, and on the back of a slew of confidence-building measures. However, her meeting with nationalist leaders from Indian Kashmir almost immediately after arriving, hit a few nerves – and put the enormity of today’s talks, and the waning Kashmir issue, back onto the centre stage.
Khar’s meetings with veteran Kashmiri leader Syed Ali Shah Geelani and then Mirwaiz Omar Farooq on Tuesday evening sent out a clear symbolic message about Pakistan’s continuing support for a cause that has suffered a setback in the wake of the arrest of US national Dr Ghulam Nabi Fai, a Kashmir lobbyist booked last week in Washington for not disclosing the sources of his funding.
“We discussed a wide range of issues and pressed for making Kashmir a core issue during any negotiations between India and Pakistan,” Geelani told reporters following the meeting.
He said that it was conveyed to Islamabad that no solution will be accepted by the people of Jammu and Kashmir even though both India and Pakistan might agree to it. “Jammu and Kashmir is not a border dispute between India and Pakistan and as such it’s for the people of Jammu and Kashmir to decide their fate,” he said.
Spokesperson of the Geelani-led All-Parties Hurriyet Conference (APHC) faction Ayaz Akbar said that the party also pressed Islamabad to use diplomatic channels to secure the release of Kashmir lobbyist Dr Fai.
Members from the other APHC faction, led by Mirwaiz Omar Farooq, who had come from Srinagar, also met Khar at the Pakistan High Commission in New Delhi. Khar assured the delegation that Pakistan sought a resolution of the Kashmir issue in accordance with the aspirations of the Kashmiri people.
Khar’s consulting of the Kashmiri leadership prior to her talks with her Indian counterpart SM Krishna on Wednesday (today) were not well-received by many in India. They felt that Khar’s meetings on Indian soil with groups avowedly against the unity and integrity of India was disrespectful and against the spirit in which the India-Pakistan ‘reengagement’ had started after a long hiatus following the 2008 Mumbai attacks.
However, advocates of India-Pakistan friendship such as MP Ram Jethmalani and retired foreign service officer MK Bhadrakumar urged a more relaxed view of the meetings, saying it was not the meeting that was important but the outcome.
“I have not had the pleasure of meeting Khar. But I think we have to take the meetings (with Kashmiri leaders) in the context of her statement when she arrived,” Jethmalani said, referring to Khar’s statement that both countries understand their responsibilities towards and within the region.
As Khar met the Kashmiri leaders, foreign secretaries Nirupama Rao and Salman Bashir finalised a slew of confidence-building measures designed to expand intra-Kashmir travel and trade apart from holding discussions on terror, including progress in 26/11 attacks probe.
India handed over to the Pakistani delegation the revised list of ‘most wanted’ fugitives which contains 48 names. Interior Minister Rehman Malik, however, said that according to the Evidence Law governing Pakistan, it will not be possible to take voice samples of those India charges as being conspirators in the Mumbai attack.
At this Indian Home Minister P Chidambaram pointed out that there was no difference between the Indian and Pakistani Evidence Act and suggested to Malik that there were several ways of taking voice samples without influencing the trial.
But Indian home ministry sources said that Malik was adamant that it could be a violation of Pakistan’s constitution.
He said that the Pakistani government had appealed to the high court for permission to take these samples. “The moment the court permits us, we will definitely send (the voice samples to India). If the high court rejects it, we will go to the Supreme Court. We will exhaust every possible stage. We are doing (it) transparently and you can examine the law,” he said, adding that the delays were not because of Pakistan but because the incident had happened in another country.
The issue of the Mumbai trial notwithstanding, there are high hopes from the foreign ministers’ meeting tomorrow.
Pakistan is the only South Asian country with which India does not have a Most Favoured Nation (MFN) status. While MFN status is a mere courtesy between nations, Islamabad had earlier linked it with a resolution of the Kashmir issue. The other issue is the 1,938 items on Pakistan’s “positive list”, again the only country in South Asia which has instituted such a list for India. This means that Pakistan will import only those items on the list and nothing else. Of these, only a hundred-odd items are allowed to be exported via Wagah.
In addition to her official meeting with Krishna on Wednesday, Khar will meet Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, Congress President Sonia Gandhi, Bharatiya Janata Party leader LK Advani as well as opposition leader in Indian lower house of Parliament Sushma Swaraj. Khar will leave India on July 28.
Meanwhile, before leaving for New Delhi, a confident Khar told reporters at the Lahore airport that she believed that India and Pakistan are reasonable nations and the dialogue process will not only favour the people of the two countries but also the entire region.
“Time is not stagnant; every opportunity is a new opportunity and every challenge is a new challenge.” (With additional reporting by Abdul Manan in Lahore)
Published in The Express Tribune, July 27th, 2011.