India and Pakistan on Saturday reported incremental progress in the bilateral engagement with a relaxed visa regime and a new cultural cooperation agreement to flaunt, but External Affairs Minister S.M. Krishna remained non-committal on the prospects of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh visiting Pakistan before the year is through.
Both on record and in background briefings, the refrain was that the two rounds of the resumed dialogue process had yielded mixed results and this was evident from the manner in which Mr. Krishna and his Pakistani counterpart Hina Rabbani Khar tried to complement each other in public instead of contradicting as has been the wont.
On whether Dr. Singh would travel to Pakistan, Mr. Krishna said the visit would happen at an appropriate time when the atmosphere was right. Maintaining that Dr. Singh had been the mover behind this relationship, he sought to qualify that no conditions were being set for the visit; adding that it would happen when there was indication that something positive could come out of it.
Both he and Ms. Khar stressed the need to learn from history without being held hostage to it. For Mr. Krishna, the very fact that Pakistan had come around to accepting India’s preference for a graduated process of addressing issues was a progress in itself. “Two years ago, Pakistan rejected the step-by-step approach when we suggested it. Now, that is being adopted by both countries,” he said in a separate briefing for the large Indian media contingent travelling with him.
Earlier, in her opening remarks at the joint press conference, Ms. Khar said the two countries were now seeking to build on convergences through the dialogue process. “We will not brood on divergences,” she said in her statement that made no mention of terrorism. Lamenting the fact that the India-Pakistan story was one filled with missed opportunities, she said Pakistan was trying to look at India through an entirely new prism but “it takes two to tango.”
Though some hard-nosed negotiations went on behind-the-scenes with the two sides working on the joint statement till well past midnight on Friday, Ms. Khar asserted that “the two have tangoed.” While doing the “tango,” both brought up issues dearest to their own countries without acrimony; at least in public. Where she raised the Kashmir issue — underscoring the need to involve the Kashmiris in the dialogue progress — Mr. Krishna brought up the need to bring the perpetrators of the Mumbai terror attacks case to book.
Conceding that the path ahead was not an easy one, Mr. Krishna said both countries were committed to writing a new chapter in bilateral ties. Addressing the naysayers, officials pointed out that progress would be slow in such a relationship but underlined that measures such as reviving the joint commission for cooperation in various areas which may not be particularly eye-catching was an important step forward.
As a goodwill gesture, Pakistan announced the release of all Indian fishermen arrested here for straying into its waters. However, the immediate release of over 200 fishermen is unlikely as not all have got consular access as yet and, therefore, have not been verified as bona fide Indians. Of those fishermen in Pakistani custody, the nationality of only 81 has been confirmed till date.