An editorial in Dawn
SLOWED down by Pakistan’s domestic crisis the normalisation process with India has nevertheless continued and unless the Indians spring a surprise, there is nothing to suggest that Jaipur is going to cast a shadow on the talks beginning in Islamabad this week. Not only has no Indian government official blamed Islamabad or any Pakistan-based organisations so far for the Jaipur tragedy, Indian security authorities suspect the involvement of some militant outfits based in Bangladesh. While the blame going in the direction of Dhaka is nothing to be pleased about, this should, however, serve to reassure us that the first meeting between Pakistan’s new foreign minister and his Indian counterpart will not be overshadowed by the tragedy at Jaipur. One can expect the two sides to meet in a climate of cordiality and show a common determination to forge ahead with the normalisation process. In fact, the Indian side should welcome Shah Mahmood Qureshi’s statement that the Islamabad meeting will focus on adopting ‘effective counter-terrorism’ measures to strengthen their bilateral cooperation in this field. Also, the firing across the Line of Control, for which New Delhi initially blamed Islamabad, has not been allowed by the two sides to vitiate the atmosphere. Even though Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh called the alleged attack from the Pakistani side ‘worrisome’ he said the issue had been taken up by the two directors general of military operations.
Meanwhile, the Iran gas pipeline has finally become a trilateral affair after India announced its decision last month to join it. No wonder the Pakistan Foreign Office spokesman at his weekly press briefing should have expressed optimism about the outcome of Wednesday’s talks. Besides Kashmir, the eight-point agenda includes terrorism, peace and security, new confidence-building measures, the Sir Creek boundary dispute, Wullar barrage, drug trafficking, and economic and cultural cooperation. The Indian side is reportedly coming with some new proposals visualising an increase in the frequency of the existing bus services and opening new ones.
While progress has been consistent since the two sides agreed on a ‘composite dialogue’ in February 2004, much more remains to be done. The visa regimes remain to be liberalised, and consulates at Karachi and Mumbai have still not been set up. This is a source of hardship for visa seekers on both sides. India also needs to address the human rights issue in the Valley and lift the ban on Pakistani TV channels in occupied Kashmir — a point raised recently by the Paris-based NGO Reporters Without Borders. What India should not fail to grasp is the opportunity offered by the assumption of power by a democratic government in Islamabad. An improvement in the human rights condition in the Valley will enable the people of Kashmir to get the benefit of the ongoing normalisation process and help find a solution acceptable to all three sides.