Hopeful signs

Hopeful signs

Even though the two-day India-Pakistan talks at the foreign secretary level did not produce any spectacular outcome, the very fact that the two sides felt that the talks were cordial and constructive marks movement and  progress. Considering the historical baggage of acrimony and the proneness of the relations to frequent mishaps and dislocation of focus, the absence of any concrete proposals to deal with contentious issues should not be seen as a sign of failure.

The atmospherics were good and it marked a sea change from the disastrous ministerial meeting last year. The joint statement at the end of the talks was a hopeful document and the two officials found it easy to express common positions jointly and without contradicting each other.

The talks were different from the earlier engagements of the recent past in that they covered all the major areas of dispute including Kashmir, terrorism, nuclear and military confidence-building measures and people to people contacts. India made it clear that there has to be a closure of the issue of 26/11 trials in Pakistan and there cannot be any discussion on Kashmir under the shadow of the gun.

Pakistan sought a collaborative approach to handling terrorism, which ostensibly diluted its responsibility to deal with anti-India activities emanating from its territory. But the bigger issues need long and hard preparations   and incremental gains in dealing with them are all that can be expected at this stage. It was decided that hostile propaganda would not be allowed to cloud mutual relations and steps would be taken to expand the space for peace.

The decision to convene a meeting of the working group on cross-LoC CBMs which will try to promote trade and travel arrangements across the border is important in this respect. India has always emphasised the need to expand and strengthen areas of co-operation with such measures, as they prepare the ground for more fruitful engagement on issues of  greater import. The fact that the foreign ministers are scheduled to meet in New Delhi next month is encouraging. If they can build on the mood and convergences of the Islamabad meeting the normalisation process can certainly gain momentum.

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