Positive signs

Positive signs

The ‘cordial’ and ‘constructive’ talks between external affairs minister S M Krishna and Pakistan foreign minister Hina Rabbani Khar, preceded by a meeting between the foreign secretaries, have helped to move the engagement between the two countries forward. There were irritants before the talks.

Home minister P Chidambaram had criticized Pakistan for refusing to act against non-state actors in that country who were indulging in hostile activities against India. The Pakistan foreign minister’s meeting with Kashmiri separatists in New Delhi was not to India’s liking. Pakistan interior minister Rahman Malik had expressed that country’s inability to give voice samples of the Mumbai attack accused to India. But these did not affect the talks which can now be considered to have stabilized after a long interregnum. Though there were no  breakthroughs on any of the issues of contention between the two sides, there was some psychological progress and an easing of the tensions.

The talks covered a wide range of issues including Kashmir, water sharing  and the need to increase co-operation to fight terrorism. The most important outcome was the decision to enhance confidence-building measures to improve trade and movement of people across the border separating the two sides of Kashmir. Cross-LoC trade has improved recently and the procedural difficulties faced by traders have been addressed to some extent. Travel and tourism have also increased.

But there is need for greater efforts on both sides for further improvement. The decision to expedite the process of applications and revise the visa regime will go a long way to improve trade and people to people contacts. India’s major concern remains the activities of terrorists and anti-India elements in Pakistan. The trial of the Mumbai attack accused in Pakistan is moving a t a slow pace. Pakistan has promised to strengthen counter-terror operations but the promise will have to be tested against the results.

In the relations between India and Pakistan, small forward steps, or even the absence of deterioration, are important because they provide the possibility to build on the gains. More expert level meetings and another ministerial meeting have been scheduled. There is a more favourable mood in Pakistan than in the past to improve relations with India. Even the military may not be insensitive to it. That gives the hope that the present engagement will gain strength in future and produce more concrete results.

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