New beginning

After the disastrous foreign ministers’ meeting in Islamabad in July last year, India and Pakistan seem to be picking up the threads of mutual engagement again. The 90-minute talks between the two foreign secretaries this week on the sidelines of the SAARC council of ministers’ conference in Thimphu has sent out some hopeful signs. Substantially, the relations between the two countries and the positions remain much the same but there is some forward movement in devising ways to break the ice. The Islamabad meeting had set back the slow clock of improvement in relations mainly because of some unwise remarks made by the Pakistani foreign minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi, and had ended in mutual blaming. But in Thimphu both sides seem to have done better in talking about talks.

It was encouraging that the two officials, Nirupama Rao and Salman Bashir, spoke in one voice and issued a common statement of intent. The details of the discussions have not been made public, perhaps as a matter of abundant caution, and it was stated that the new beginning should be allowed to mature in course of time. Even when both sides stuck to their positions they were couched in diplomatic terms and the differences did not come to the fore. The fact that both felt satisfied with the talks and thought the other side had taken a constructive attitude will not be missed. The statement of External Affairs S M Krishna that the talks had laid a solid foundation for a sustained engagement is proof of that. If both sides abide by the spirit of last April’s Thimphu agreement between the prime ministers to reduce the trust deficit, there is hope for the future.

Issues like the nature of future talks, which Pakistan insists should be a composite dialogue touching on all issues like Kashmir, and India’s insistence that Pakistan should show progress in punishing those who planned the November 2008 Mumbai terror attack remain. Not only has Pakistan failed in taking action against those involved in the Mumbai outrage but has started comparing it with the attack on the Samjhauta train in 2007.

Anti-India activities and rhetoric continue in that country, sometimes with official approval. But the fact remains that both countries must try to create conditions to resume the broken dialogue and work towards the goal of normalisation of their relations. The Thimphu talks may be a step in that direction.

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