M A I N   N E W S

Cordiality returns
India, Pakistan decide to move forward as foreign secys meet
Ajay Banerjee in Islamabad

After a prolonged finger-pointing exercise — that stretched over 18 months — India and Pakistan today settled for tight handshake, if not a bear hug, with both sides agreeing to break away from the past to give relations a “forward orientation”.

Indian Foreign Secretary Nirupama Rao and her Pakistan counterpart Salman Bashir in a joint press conference today said: “Dialogue is the best way forward to resolve all pending issues…The destiny of our people is linked to each other.”

Clearly setting the ball rolling to “normalise” relations between the two countries as was envisaged by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and his Pakistan counterpart Yousaf Gilani at a meeting in Thimpu in May, the two foreign secretaries held “cordial and constructive” parleys in a bid to “understand each other’s position and concerns.”

Rao, the first senior Indian official to travel to Pakistan after the 26/11 attacks, told a hall packed with mediapersons: “We owe it our people to chart a course forward. We want a stable, peaceful and prosperous Pakistan.”

The announcement is a seen as a significant thaw in the stormy relations between the two neighbours. India had suspended dialogue with Pakistan following the Mumbai attacks.

Sources said concrete and visible confidence building measures would be announced when the two foreign ministers SM Krishna and Shah Mehmood Qureshi meet in Islamabad on July 15.

During the conference, India made its point very clear on terrorism originating from Pakistan and the role of anti-India elements like Jamaat-ul-Dawaa, its chief Hafiz Sayeed and LeT in the Mumbai attacks. The Indian side noted that Saeed’s “virulently anti-India rhetoric” was not conducive to peace and that Pakistan need to “at least stop such propaganda”, the sources said. Sending a strong message to hawks on both sides of the border, Rao said: “We must deny terrorists an opportunity to derail the peace process.”

In reply to question if the Army and the ISI were in agreement for this peace process, Bashir said: “All the forces and the leadership is reading from the same page… Terrorism has impacted Pakistan and we all know this”.

The two nations choose to move beyond the nomenclature of “composite dialogue” and said the time has come for a substantial, comprehensive and meaningful dialogue.

Rao also sought to address Pakistan’s concerns about the Indian presence in Afghanistan, saying that the only role being played by New Delhi in that country was developmental in nature.

The sources said the Indian side also made it clear that attacks on Indian assets in Afghanistan could not be “allowed to continue” as it affected relations between New Delhi and Islamabad and created “bad blood and suspicions.”





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