Sharp words before the international media did not cloud the considerable progress made towards improved ties.
India's foreign secretary, Ranjan Mathai, held substantive talks this week in New Delhi with his Pakistani counterpart, Jalil Abbas Jilani. Their discussions, held Wednesday (July 4th) and Thursday, were intended to help pave the way for resuming the stalled dialogue between the two South Asian neighbours, whose heads of government have not held a summit since November 2008.
That was when Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) terrorists went on a rampage around Mumbai, killing at least 164 people in attacks on a train station, hotels and hospitals, a Jewish community centre, and other locations. India has consistently charged that that elements within the Pakistani state colluded in the attack. Calling for Pakistani officials to hand over the plotters of the attack, it put the peace process on ice until those demands are met.
Despite the diplomatic freeze, India's Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Pakistan's President Asif Ali Zardari have met three times either on the sidelines of multilateral events or on occasions described as "informal". In 2010, both leaders agreed to a calibrated resumption of dialogue, with outstanding issues to be addressed at the foreign secretary level.
Still at odds over terrorism claims
This week's meetings saw both sides reiterating their positions and even sparring before the international media, though without derailing the gradual rapprochement which has gained momentum in recent months.
Speaking to Khabar South Asia, Mathai insisted that Delhi has produced solid evidence that Pakistani intelligence officers were involved with terror attack planning. "But Pakistan skirts the issue completely," he said.
Jilani this week flatly rejected the claims that state actors were involved in the Mumbai attacks. "We are offering the opportunity to sort this out through a joint investigation in which officials from both countries would be present," he said.
Adding drama to the atmosphere surrounding the talks was the disclosure Monday (June 25th) that suspected LeT "handler" Sayed Zabiuddin Ansari, also known as Abu Jindal or Abu Hamza, is in Indian custody. The authorities say he has proven to be a goldmine of information about the Mumbai attacks, which he allegedly helped co-ordinate from a control centre inside the Pakistani port city of Karachi, giving the terrorists instructions via mobile phone.
The Special Cell of the Delhi Police continues to interrogate Ansari, who was arrested at Delhi's Indira Gandhi International Airport as he returned from Saudi Arabia. B.N. Sood, an official with the Special Cell, told Khabar that the suspect's confessions would be added to a dossier, which the government will send to Pakistan.
Peace process going ahead
Despite the now-familiar disagreements and accompanying rhetoric over the issue, however, observers say that the dialogue has been healthy and the process of boosting ties continues to move forward.
"There may be minor disagreements but we are happy with the outcome of the talks," said Sheikh Mustafa Kamal, a top leader with the largest political party in Kashmir, the National Conference. Kashmir has been the flashpoint of dispute between the two nations.
"Pakistan and India need to engage each other more frequently. Only then would the humble Kashmiri have the courage to go on with his life," he told Khabar, pointing to the significance of the dialogue for people in the disputed region.
A joint statement issued on Thursday demonstrated the considerable degree of progress which has been achieved. It included an announcement of talks between newly set up expert groups on developing confidence building measures (CBM) covering conventional weapons and nuclear warheads. The groups would not only review old CBM principles but also develop new ones, "thereby contributing to peace and security".
It also pledged a separate set of CBM for boosting trade between India and Pakistan across the Line-of-Control in Kashmir (the 540km-long, mutually accepted informal line separating Indian and Pakistan-held Kashmiri territory), and reiterated that the Kashmir dispute should be resolved through dialogue.
Finally, it announced the relaxation of travel restrictions for citizens of the two countries, pledged a commitment to the "cessation of hostile propaganda against each other", urged more visits by sport and media professionals, and promised the facilitation of exchanges by legislators, artists, entertainers and cultural figures in order to build up people-to-people contact.
New talks at the foreign minister's level are slated for September 2012, with Jilani and Mathai holding a preparatory meeting before that in Islamabad.
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