Seven years after the 26/11 Mumbai attacks, India and Pakistan have agreed to resume structured dialogue.
Announcing the breakthrough, External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj said at a joint press conference in Islamabad on Wednesday: “We have decided to restart the Comprehensive Bilateral Dialogue. The dialogue that was earlier known as Composite Dialogue and later on as Resumed Dialogue will now be known as the Comprehensive Bilateral Dialogue.”
Ms. Swaraj said the decision had come as a result of the talks on terror by the National Security Advisers in Bangkok on Sunday. In their joint statement, Ms. Swaraj and Pakistan’s Foreign Affairs Adviser Sartaj Aziz “condemned terrorism and resolved to cooperate to eliminate it.”
The joint statement also noted that Pakistan had given assurances on an “early completion of the Mumbai attacks 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. The meeting, which had been scheduled only as a “courtesy call” as Ms. Swaraj was there to attend the Heart of Asia conference, lasted 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 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 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 Rahman Lakhvi.
Both in Opposition and in government, the BJP had opposed any resumption of dialogue without “concrete action” by the Sharif government on the Mumbai attacks. “We are happy for any development that promotes peace, but the government must explain what has changed for this resumption of dialogue now,” Congress spokesperson Tom Vadakkan said on Wednesday.
Explaining the Centre’s position, a senior official denied there had been a sudden shift. “If you take this along with FS Jaishankar’s visit to Islamabad, then the Ufa meeting, it is the third attempt by the Modi government to reach out to Pakistan,” the official told The Hindu from Islamabad.
After talks between Ms. Swaraj and Mr. Aziz which lasted two hours, the two sides tasked Mr. Jaishankar and his Pakistani counterpart Aizaz Ahmed Chaudhry with formulating a timetable for secretary-level talks.
( With inputs from PTI )
Government must explain what has changed for parleys to restart, says Cong. spokesperson