Seven years after the 26/11 Mumbai terror attacks, India and Pakistan have agreed to resume structured dialogue between them. Announcing the breakthrough development, External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj said at a joint press conference in Islamabad, “We have decided to restart the Comprehensive Bilateral Dialogue. The dialogue that was earlier known as Composite Dialogue and later on known as Resumed Dialogue will now be known as the Comprehensive Bilateral Dialogue.”
Ms. Swaraj added that the decision had come as a result of the talks on terror by the National Security Advisors in Bangkok on Sunday. In their joint statement, Ms. Swaraj and Pakistan’s Foreign Affairs Advisor Sartaj Aziz “condemned terrorism and resolved to cooperate to eliminate it”. The joint statement also notes that Pakistan had given assurances on an “early completion of the Mumbai trial”.
Earlier Ms. Swaraj and the Indian delegation comprising Foreign Secretary S. Jaishankar and India’s envoys to Pakistan and Afghanistan >called on Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif at his office in Islamabad. The meeting, that had been scheduled only as a “courtesy call” as Ms. Swaraj was there to attend the Heart of Asia conference, ended up lasting well past an hour. “The atmosphere was very warm and friendly right from the start,” a senior official present in the room told The Hindu , adding that Ms. Swaraj referred to the fact that Mr. Sharif had maintained his commitment to dialogue between India and Pakistan ever since he had been elected Prime Minister.
“She said repeatedly that PM Sharif’s sincerity was beyond doubt and appreciated his willingness to accept shortcomings and move ahead with the process.” In response, Mr. Sharif reportedly said that he was indeed committed to peace with India and that “no issue was off the table as far as he was concerned”.
Despite the bonhomie in Islamabad, Ms. Swaraj is likely to face a barrage of questions when she returns to Delhi and >briefs parliament on Thursday, as the commitments by Pakistan on the Mumbai trial seem to be the same as in the past and gave no specific commitments on the prosecution of the masterminds Hafiz Saeed and Zaki-ur-Rehman Lakhvi. Both in opposition and in government the BJP has opposed any resumption of dialogue without “concrete action” by the Nawaz Sharif government on the Mumbai attacks where 160 people were killed in coordinated strikes by LeT gunmen from Pakistan. “We are happy for any development that promotes peace, but the government must explain what has changed for this resumption of dialogue now,” said Congress spokesperson Tom Vadakkan on Wednesday evening.
After talks between Ms. Swaraj and Mr. Aziz which lasted two hours, the two sides tasked Foreign Secretaries of the two countries with formulating a timetable for secretary level talks on all the 10 issues that form the resurrected dialogue process. In moving from the composite dialogue basket of eight issues to the comprehensive dialogue, the governments have decided to flesh out the subject of peaceful exchanges, with humanitarian issues, people to people exchanges and religious tourism now coming under separate headings. While Ms. Swaraj has had the toughest line in government on talks with Pakistan so far, she has also spearheaded the initiatives to repatriate Indians and Pakistanis stranded on the wrong side of the border, including in the high-profile case of “Geeta”, who returned from Karachi in October.
Kashmir on dialogue agenda
In a departure from the Ufa statement issued in July 2015, that had >omitted the reference to Jammu and Kashmir , the joint statement has clarified that the dispute remains one of the issues for discussion. Mr. Sharif had faced sharp criticism over the >Ufa statement in Pakistan, and the difference over the statement had led to the >cancellation of NSA talks in Delhi in August this year. Since then, there had been no bilateral contact between both sides until a surprise pull aside >meeting between Mr. Modi and Mr. Sharif on November 30, 2015, followed by >talks on terror between the NSAs Ajit Doval and Lt. Gen. Nasir Khan Janjua on December 6, 2015. In another departure from the past, India and Pakistan have decided to allow the NSAs to take over all issues of terrorism between the two sides.
The declaration of Comprehensive Bilateral Dialogue was welcomed by former Foreign Secretary of Pakistan Salman Bashir who described the declaration by Ms. Swaraj as a “great development”.
“The visit of Sushma Swaraj has been a great success as it revived the structured dialogue process between India and Pakistan. It’s also significant as the resumption of dialogue comes at the time of the 30th anniversary of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC),” Mr. Bashir told The Hindu .
The India-Pakistan Composite Dialogue is rooted in the 1997 SAARC Summit at Male where Prime Ministers I.K. Gujral and Mr. Sharif agreed to create a Composite Dialogue Process (CDP). The CDP survived till 26/11 terror attacks on Mumbai led to its suspension.
(With PTI inputs)