Consensus on Slow and Steady

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India-Pakistan Foreign Secretary talks ended on a quiet note in New Delhi perhaps signaling a willingness to make bilateral engagement uninterruptible and go slow on all issues. Iftikhar Gilani analyses the nature of the new Indo-Pak diplomatic environment and what it has meant for Kashmir.

As expected there were no electrifying announcements at the end of the much-awaited talks between the foreign ministers of India and Pakistan. Except a few CBMs there was little progress on either Kashmir or terrorism. The rivals instead did focus on a sustainable mechanism for exploring convergences within their respective stated positions.

“We must make every effort to narrowing down divergences and building convergences. It is important that as responsible states, we take ownership for our affairs,” said the Pakistan Foreign, Minister Hina Rabani Khar.

The earlier ‘disastrous’ summit meeting like at the Egyptian resort Sharm al-Sheikh or between the foreign ministers in Islamabad last year seem to have significantly informed the conduct of the archrivals this time in New Delhi. The Indian External Affairs Ministry made sure to shield the just concluded India-Pakistan talks from going out of hand. Both sides wanted to sustain a “feel good” to help their prime ministers take some concrete decisions, possibly on Sir Creek and Siachen, in September when they meet on the sidelines of UN General Assembly.

At the center of the cooperative air is also not to allow Afghanistan become another battle ground for the two countries.

Sources told Kashmir Life the attempt was to lay the ground for Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh’s visit to Islamabad next year before he demits office.
The two foreign ministers’ conduct this time also pointed to a willingness for doing away with diplomacy through media. But, some goof ups could not be avoided.

Former union minister Ram Jethmalani had almost neutralized the “feel good” factor during a dinner hosted by Pakistan High Commissioner Shahid Malik at a luxurious Mauriya Sheraton hotel. The acerbic lawyer praised the deposed former president Pervez Musahrraf and in the most undiplomatic manner attacked China, in presence of Chinese envoy Zhang Yan. He called China an enemy of both countries asking them to join and defeat “Beijing hegemony”.

The High Commissioner quickly moved in for damage control and clarified that Jethmalani’s views were not shared by his country. Indian government too scrambled. Minister of State for Parliamentary Affairs Rajiv Shukla, Foreign Secretary Nirupama Rao and some other MEA officials rushed to the Chinese Ambassador, who was sharing the table with US charge d’ affairs Peter Burleigh, to clam his nerves and apologised for the right wing lawyer-politician’s remarks.

Jethmalani showed no appreciation of acceptable gender politics by referring to the 34-year-old foreign minister of Pakistan as a charming lady. He did not stop there and made sure to mention why he had secured an invitation for the dinner – after looking at the pictures of Khar in the morning newspapers.

To keep talks on track following India’s annoyance at Khar’s meetings with Kashmiri  separatist leaders, Syed Ali Geelani and Mirwaiz Umar Farooq, Pakistan Foreign Minister avoided tricky issues and refrained from mentioning Kashmir at the brief media interaction. In a finely scripted plan, it was left to Krishna to mention Pakistan’s core concern.

He said, “on Jammu and Kashmir, we will continue discussions with a view to finding a peaceful solution by narrowing divergences and building convergences.” Both the countries displayed caution while referring to the meetings with Kashmiri resistance leaders. The Indian foreign secretary Rao said the meetings illustrated the ‘divergence’ between the two countries. Her counterpart Salman Bashir was also quick to dismiss Indian apprehensions. “This matter of the meeting yesterday cannot be construed in any manner including intentionally or by design to cast any shadow on today’s talks,” he said.

Sources said, behind closed doors at Hyderabad House, 79-year old Krishna did not miss talking about how the youthful Pakistan Foreign Minister looked. HE too showed an appaling sense of gender politics when according to sources he told Khar that “Half of India, which is your age, looks towards you not just for your good looks but also dynamism and the fresh approach that you have brought to the table.”

These sources also said both sides did discuss Kashmir and Mumbai trials at length.

Khar though stuck to her youthful diplomatic overtures and said: “A new generation of Indians and Pakistanis will see a relationship that will hopefully be much different from the one that has been experienced in the last two decades.”

The two countries agreed to ease travel restrictions, boost bus services frequency and double the number of days goods could be traded across the Line of Control.

 “I can confidently say our relations are on the right track,” Krishna said.

(Iftikhar Gilani works with Tehelka group of newspapers)

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