ISLAMABAD: In an effort to bridge the trust deficit, India and Pakistan on Thursday exchanged proposals on a wide variety of issues bedevilling bilateral ties, including terrorism, humanitarian matters and Jammu and Kashmir.
In a change from the acrimony that has marked their relations since the 2008 Mumbai terror attacks, the foreign secretaries of the two countries — India’s Ms Nirupama Rao and Pakistan’s Mr Salman Bashir — held “cordial and constructive” parleys here in a bid to “understand each other’s position and concerns”.
Ms Rao, the first senior Indian official to travel to Pakistan after the 26/11 attacks, said at a joint press briefing, “We discussed all issues, obviously our core concerns on terrorism were also articulated.”
Sources said that proposals and specific ideas on various issues were exchanged during the meeting. India’s focus was on terrorism and humanitarian issues.
Pakistani sources said they had also discussed ideas relating to Kashmir.
These proposals will be taken back to the political leadership of the two countries so that they can be firmed up and “form the substantial part of the outcome” of the meeting of the foreign ministers scheduled to be held in Islamabad on July 15, the sources said.
However, they did not provide specifics of the proposals offered by both sides but indicated that the talks had gone “very well” and that the Pakistani side listened to India’s concerns without dismissing them out of hand.
During the talks, the Indian side raised the “core concern of terrorism”, including the activities of the Lashker-e-Taiba and Jamaat-ud-Dawah as well as the founder both groups, Hafiz Muhammad Saeed.
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.
The Indian side 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”.
The sources said the ongoing re-engagement process could succeed if it started with the “achievable”, including release of prisoners, trade and cross-line of control confidence-building measures.
Ms Rao asserted that the orientation of the re-engagement between the two countries was to look at the reasons why there was a trust deficit and how it can be bridged.
Ms Rao noted that the Pakistan Prime Minister, Mr Yusuf Raza Gilani had assured his Indian counterpart, Dr Manmohan Singh in Thimphu in April that Pakistan will not allow its soil to be used for terrorist activities against India.
“We believe that it is an important commitment and what we also believe is that we should jointly work together towards our goal of resolution of outstanding issues,” she said.
After his meeting with Ms Rao to prepare the ground for the meeting of the foreign ministers in July, Mr Bashir said he felt “much more optimistic” about a good outcome at the talks.
He said the two countries should “work towards restoring confidence and building trust with a view to make it possible to have comprehensive, sustained and substantial dialogue”.
“The meeting was marked with a great deal of cordiality, sincerity and earnestness. The dialogue was very constructive… We have been able to review comprehensively the state of our bilateral relations. All issues of concern and interests were touched upon,” Mr Bashir said.
Ms Rao said the discussions were not merely “exploratory” as the two sides tried to “understand each other’s position”. She said both countries must “deny the terrorist elements any opportunity to derail the peace process”.
Ms Rao and Mr Bashir also brushed aside a question on the nomenclature for the ongoing engagement and said the two sides should focus on “serious, sustained and comprehensive” talks instead of issues like a roadmap.
Both foreign secretaries noted that Indian Home Minister, Mr P Chidambaram and his Pakistani counterpart, Mr Rehman Malik would discuss terrorism on the sidelines of a SAARC interior ministers meeting on June 26 and hoped that it will help in strengthening and solidifying efforts to address the menace.
Unlike their last meeting in New Delhi on February 25, both sides were on Thursday cautious in articulating their positions before the media on various issues raised during the parleys.
Describing the meeting as a step forward in bilateral relations, the Pakistan Foreign Minister, Mr Shah Mehmood Qureshi said the two countries should build on this development.
“I think this dialogue is a step forward. The fact that the two sides have resumed the dialogue, have agreed to sit together and talk on issues of mutual concerns is an important development. And we should build on this development,” Mr Qureshi said.
Asked whether the trust deficit can be bridged, he said: “Why not? Where there is a will, there is a way.”
Later, speaking to reporters, Mr Bashir refused to go into specifics of what was discussed during his meeting with Ms Rao. “I would not like to go into the specifics of one or the other issue at this point of time. I think what we are trying to do here is to create the right environment. What is in the interest of both countries is to re-engage on each and every issue,” he said.
Asked whether both countries were getting irritated by each other’s core issues, Mr Bashir said, “I think it is not a question of irritation. We realise that there are complex issues on both sides that we have to address.”