While there is scepticism over the proposed talks between the Prime Ministers of the two countries in New York, Parliamentarians from India and Pakistan on Thursday reaffirmed their faith in people to people contacts and the dialogue process between the two countries and said that not talking to each other was no longer an option.
The 13-member delegation of Indian MPs is led by former Union Minister Mani Shankar Aiyer. Pakistan Institute of Legislative Development and Transparency (PILDAT) has been facilitating the dialogue series since January 2011.
T.N. Seema from the Communist Party of India (Marxist) said that she was keen on exchanges between the two countries as for instance on medical tourism. Experience sharing in decentralisation was also a possibility. Bharatiya Janata Party MP Kirti Azad holds the view that talks between the two countries are not possible as long as Pakistan supports terror. He clarified, however, he was here in his individual capacity.
Speaking at the inaugural session, Mr. Aiyer said the purpose of the dialogue between the MPs of the two countries is to contribute something to improve the atmosphere between India and Pakistan. He had first come here on a posting in 1978 and those were the best years of his life. Every time he visited Pakistan, he felt there was hope. Some good things have emerged in the past after such dialogues he said, adding that it was good news that a democratic transition had taken place in Pakistan. This is the fifth in the series of dialogue between Parliamentarians of the two countries organised by PILDAT and he was happy to note that even during the election campaign earlier this year, there was no India bashing. Though there were great hopes after Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif took over, there have been incidents which have caused a setback but there is a need for a dialogue to end the tensions especially when the situation is bad. Talking is the only option, he pointed out and while one cannot guarantee results there was always a need for the dialogue process to be kept open.
PILDAT president Ahmed Bilal Mehboob said one of the important issues to be discussed is the Indus water treaty for which former Union Water Resources Secretary Ramaswamy Iyer is also accompanying the delegation. Apart from the reviewing the progress of the official dialogue, the MPs would examine humanitarian issues and trade. It will be befitting if the MPs owned the dialogue process and discuss the best ways forward, since they may have different ways of looking at solutions, he said.
Representatives of all the main political parties in Pakistan endorsed the need to have talks and move ahead. Syed Nayyer Hussain Bokhari, chairman of the Pakistan senate reaffirmed the centrality of dialogue to the peace process and the use of Parliamentary diplomacy. “As peoples’ representatives we can present workable policy options which can be out of the box,” he said. Senator Mushahid Hussain , Chairman, Senate Defence Committee, said “anti-Indianism, according to different survey results, has been replaced by anti-Americanism.” He said in view of the upcoming U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan in 2014 it is crucial that India and Pakistan should work together to take bold decisions which may be unpopular yet necessary. Syed Naveed Qamar from the Pakistan People’s Party said to be realistic, he did not expect any major breakthroughs if the two Prime Ministers met in New York. While nothing can be expected till the new government takes over in India next year, he said “we have to keep the seat warm till then. We can’t resolve issues but we can create an atmosphere for dialogue once the government changes.” The Indian delegation also exchanged views with Mr. Aziz, advisor to the Prime Minister on National Security and Foreign Affairs.