As the Indian media swooned over Hina Rabbani Khar’s social graces and fashion sense, Jane Birkin handbag, Chanel sunglasses, her pearls and her diamonds, substantive gains were made in the people-to-people component of India’s relations with Pakistan in her talks with Indian Foreign Minister SM Krishna.
But some Indian analysts raged and ranted over the manner in which New Delhi had ‘given up’ the initiative on terrorism and merely registered its ‘disapproval’ of Khar’s meeting with Kashmiri politicians.
However, those who want the India-Pakistan engagements to continue strongly backed Khar’s statement that dialogue between the two countries should be ‘uninterrupted and uninterruptible’ – a phrase that Congress MP Mani Shankar Aiyar claimed Khar had borrowed from him.
Appearing at a joint news conference with Khar after their two and half hours of talks, Krishna said ties were back ‘on the right track,’ while Khar spoke of a ‘mindset change’ that had ushered in a ‘new era of cooperation’.
“We have some distance to travel, but with an open mind and a constructive approach … I am sure we can reach our desired destination of having a friendly and cooperative relationship,” Krishna said.
Khar said: “A new generation of Indians and Pakistanis will see a relationship that will hopefully be much different from the one that has been experienced in the last two decades.”
On the thorny issue of terrorism, the two foreign ministers agreed to work more closely to fight militancy and to bring to justice perpetrators of the Mumbai attacks which, New Delhi believes, were carried out by Pakistan-based militants.
“We have agreed …to fight and eliminate this scourge in all forms,” Krishna said. “We have also agreed on the need to strengthen cooperation in counter-terrorism to bring those responsible for terror crimes to justice.”
Krishna said the two countries had agreed to ease travel restrictions, boost bus services frequency and double the number of days goods could be traded across the Line of Control – the de facto border in the Himalayan state of Kashmir. “I can confidently say our relations are on the right track,” he said.
A joint statement issued after the meeting outlined the commitment of both sides to fight terrorism, boost trade and keep the peace process going.
Indian foreign policy experts, including former Foreign Secretary Kanwal Sibal, objected to the reference to counterterrorism and progress on the Mumbai trials while omitting altogether any reference to the status of the trials of those charged in the conspiracy in Pakistan.“There should have been a more extended reference to terrorism,” said former deputy national security adviser Leela Ponappa.
Aside from an agreement on facilitating each other’s prisoners, the two sides also agreed on a slew of confidence building measures (CBMs) on Kashmir.
But on the progress of the trials of the Mumbai blasts, the Indian side said it got no convincing assurances from Pakistan.
“Pakistan said: we are also victims of terror. But where is the equivalence? Pakistan is a victim because of its own mistakes. But we (India) are victims because Pakistan nurtures terrorists. What has changed after these talks?” asked Kanwal Sibal.
Despite the official upbeat assessment of the talks, it appears that Khar’s meetings with Kashmiri politicians have not gone down well with the Indians. She met Syed Ali Geelani and Mirwaiz Umar Farooq, chiefs of their respective factions of the All Parties Hurriyat Conference (APHC) on Tuesday.
Foreign Secretary Nirupama Rao said the meetings illustrated the ‘divergence’ between the two countries. “We have a very different point of view from Pakistan on that particular event (the meeting) and we have expressed our concerns in a frank and candid manner to the Pakistan side,” Rao told reporters.
Pakistan Foreign Secretary Salman Bashir moved quickly to dismiss the Indian apprehensions. “This matter of the meeting yesterday cannot be construed in any manner including intentionally or by design to cast any shadow on today’s talks,” he said. “I think we should not read more into it.”
Prime Minister Singh accepted an invitation to visit Pakistan at mutually convenient dates. (With additional input from AFP)
Published in The Express Tribune, July 28th, 2011.