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Thursday, June 23, 2011

INDO-PAK TIES: Kashmir step by step: the next round of talks!

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SUHASINI HAIDAR / The Hindu / June 23, 2011.

Foreign Secretary Nirupama Rao with her Pakistani counterpart Salman Bashir during a meeting in New Delhi. File Photo
Foreign Secretary Nirupama Rao with her Pakistani counterpart Salman Bashir during a meeting in New Delhi. File Photo - The Hindu.

India needs to understand that the absence of violence in the Kashmir Valley is not peace, and that development and dignity for all Kashmiris go hand in hand. Pakistan must recognise that violence will never bring peace for Kashmiris, and will imperil all Pakistanis.
On the face of it, this summer in India-Pakistan engagement has been defined by the discovery of Osama bin Laden, the revelations of David Headley and Tahawwur Rana, and the intense turmoil inside Pakistan that has unleashed another round of deadly attacks there.
Even so, as the Foreign Secretaries prepare for their next engagement in Islamabad at the end of June, it isn't these events but three significant processes that will define their immediate agenda, particularly on Kashmir.
The first is the successful conduct of panchayat elections in Jammu and Kashmir that were completed on June 18. Despite some violence in the initial phases, even the killing of a woman candidate by gunmen in Budgam, the voter turnout was between 70-80 per cent. Chief Minister Omar Abdullah called it a “smooth ride” beyond his expectations, marking the first such election in 33 years not overrun by militant attacks, or “interference” from across the Line of Control (LoC).
In Pakistan's Kashmir (PoK) too, this weekend (June 26) will see Assembly elections and the selection of the next Prime Minister of Azad Jammu and Kashmir (Pakistan's name for it). What has marked these elections from the previous ones is the intense involvement of national parties like the PPP and the PML (Nawaz), with senior leaders as part of the campaign, as well as the participation of the Sindh-based MQM, which for the first time is contesting each of the 41 seats.
While elections on both sides of the LoC are strengthening the processes on the ground, it is the talks between India and Pakistan that have been building bilateral engagement, with all three processes in significant, albeit coincidental, tandem. Since April this year, the Home, Commerce and Defence Secretaries have all met to discuss issues like Sir Creek and the Tulbul navigation project. As the Foreign Secretaries prepare to review the progress, they will have some cause for satisfaction. While no movement may have been made on Siachen, the blueprint for visa liberalisation, and one of their most expansive economic agreements ever, with Pakistan committing itself in print to granting India MFN status, are welcome. The two sides have agreed to move from the current “positive list” of items for trade to a “negative list,” as well as new investments in the fields of energy and fuel. Most importantly, each meeting has ended with a clear timeline of the next meeting to resolve issues. An optimistic view of India-Pakistan engagement would even be that these bilateral issues need no longer occupy centre stage, as their resolution is in sight — freeing up interlocutors to focus on the two intractable issues: Kashmir and terrorism.

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