Promising ‘new era’, India, Pakistan unveil new cross-Kashmir CBMs (Night Lead)

July 27th, 2011 - 9:37 pm ICT by IANS  

Manmohan Singh New Delhi, July 27 (IANS) Moving beyond their post-26/11 rancour, India and Pakistan Wednesday sought to open “a new chapter” of “peaceful and cooperative” ties by pledging to intensify counter-terror cooperation and unveiling a host of initiatives to spur trade and travel between the divided halves of Kashmir.

External Affairs Minister S.M. Krishna held nearly two-and-a-half hours of discussions with his Pakistani counterpart Hina Rabbani Khar, who is 45 years his junior, that covered a wide gamut of issues, including terrorism, Jammu and Kashmir, liberalisation of trade and simplification of the visa regime.

Cross-Kashmir confidence-building measures (CBMs) were the centrepiece of the joint statement issued after the talks.

“They agreed to simplify travel procedures and increase the frequency of bus services for people of the divided Jammu and Kashmir across the Line of Control (LoC), the de facto border that divides the state between the two countries,” said a joint statement issued after the talks.

The enhanced travel across Kashmir would now “include visits for tourism and religious pilgrimage”. Earlier, the bus service was only for families that separated after the 1947 war during which Pakistan occupied a portion of Jammu and Kashmir. They also decided to relax travel conditions by having a system of six-month multiple entry permits.

In an important step, the two sides decided to reconvene the meeting of the joint commission that will identify future areas of cooperation.

After their talks, the two foreign ministers made a joint appearance before the media, and struck an upbeat note on the trajectory of the dialogue process the two neighbours resumed in February after an over two-year hiatus following the Nov 26-29, 2008 Mumbai terror spree.

Khar later called on Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Bharatiya Janata Party leaders L.K. Advani and Sushsma Swaraj and conveyed to them her country’s desire to open a new chapter in relations with India, said sources.

Unlike earlier such occasions when the talks ended in a volley of mutual recriminations and rhetorical grandstanding on issues like Kashmir and terror, there was hardly any discordant note except for Khar’s meeting with separatist Hurriyat leaders Tuesday over which India expressed “concerns.”

Significantly, Khar did not even mention Kashmir in her opening statement and the joint statement did not have an explicit mention of 26/11 attacks. The joint statement, however, spoke about finding “a peaceful solution by narrowing down divergences and building convergences”.

The restraint in their public statements signalled rare political will by both sides to sustain the peace process and imbue it with people-centric initiatives.

“This is indeed a new era of bilateral cooperation between the two countries and it is our desire and I believe after having spoken to you (Krishna), that it is the desire and commitment of both the governments to make it an uninterrupted and an uninterpretable process,” Khar said at the media stakeout with Krishna.

Seeking to move beyond the “burdens of history,” a point she made after arriving here Tuesday, Khar said: “A new generation of India and Pakistan will see a relationship which is going to be much different then the one we experienced in the last few decades.”

“We have agreed that the process should continue and in fact there is no alternative to dialogue and constructive engagement,” said the 34-year-old Khar, Pakistan’s youngest and first woman foreign minister.

Krishna, too, struck a positive tone about the course of revived ties, saying the relations are “on the right track.”

“We have some distance to travel, but with an open mind and a constructive approach, which has been demonstrated in this round of dialogue, I am sure we can reach our desired destination of having a friendly and cooperative relationship between the two countries,” he said.

Terrorism figured prominently in the discussions, with India asking Pakistan to bring the culprits behind 26/11 to justice. But here again, unlike earlier occasions, the strident note was missing with both sides eschewing the temptation to score brownie points.

“We have agreed that terrorism poses a continuing threat to peace and security and reiterate the firm and undiluted commitment of our two countries to fight and eliminate this scourge in all forms,” Krishna said.

“We have also agreed the need to strengthen cooperation in counter-terrorism to bring those responsible for terror crimes to justice,” he added.

“We are are very concerned and we have expressed that concern to the Pakistan side on the need for speedy completion of the Mumbai trial and the need to bring the culprits to speedy justice,” Foreign Secretary Nirupama Rao later said at a joint press conference with her Pakistani counterpart Salman Bashir.

Unlike last year when he had famously dismissed the evidence given by India linking Pakistani terrorists to 26/11 as “literature,” Bashir counselled patience and spoke about Pakistan’s efforts in this direction.

Trade got a boost with both sides agreeing on the importance of early establishment of a non-discriminatory trade regime between the two countries, including reduction or removal of tariff and non-tariff barriers.

Other trust-building initiatives included the convening, in Islamabad in September, of separate meetings of the expert groups on nuclear and conventional CBMs and the speedy release of prisoners in each other’s territory.

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