Summit right step: Canada

OTTAWA, JULY 6. Canada has welcomed the decision of India and Pakistan to begin negotiations aimed at resolving long standing disputes in the region, including the Kashmir issue.

``Canada welcomes efforts by both parties to defuse tensions and to resolve bilateral disputes peacefully,'' said the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Mr. John Manley. ``The decision of the Prime Minister, Mr. Atal Behari Vajpayee, and the Pakistan President, Gen. Pervez Musharraf, to meet, is an important step in the right direction. Canada urges both countries to move forward with this dialogue in a spirit of cooperation and goodwill.''

The Secretary of State for the Asia Pacific, Dr. Rey Pagtakhan, said, ``the recent detente between India and Pakistan is very encouraging. Canada welcomes the fact that both countries are willing to engage in a dialogue on difficult issues. We also commend both sides for continuing to show restraint along the Line of Control.''

The formal statement by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs says that on Kashmir, Canada supports a peacefully negotiated solution, ``that would take into account the interests of the Kashmiri people, improve human rights in the region and end all acts of terrorism.''

Other senior officials are ``cautiously hopeful'' there will be a positive outcome to the coming Vajpayee-Musharraf summit in Agra next week. ``We hope the summit leads to a whole new approach to bilateral dialogue,'' a Foreign Affairs Ministry official said.

In not wanting to minimise the existing difficulties between the two countries on outstanding issues, notably Kashmir, the officials say there is an absolute imperative for both India and Pakistan to come up with a ``new'' or ``fresh'' thinking, the argument being that the zero-sum approach of the past has gone nowhere and has been particularly destructive. ``Reiterations of well known positions will not be of much use'' is the official refrain here.

The Government of Mr. Jean Chretien has taken note of the restraint shown by India during Kargil and its immediate aftermath; has welcomed Gen. Musharraf's desire for a dialogue and praised Mr. Vajpayee for showing ``real leadership'' in taking the major initiative. ``We are cautiously hopeful,'' an official said.

For India and Pakistan, in 2001, to believe that occupied parts of Kashmir can be re-taken by military force by one or the other is not ``realistic'' says an official. The deeply entrenched positions on the subject would have to be sorted out only by the two countries, he adds. Officials here do not subscribe to the view that either Mr. Vajpayee or Gen. Musharraf were pressured by a third country - read the United States - to start a dialogue.

The feeling here is that while other nations may have been actively goading India and Pakistan to start talking, especially on Kashmir, this was clearly a bilateral issue that would have to be sorted out by New Delhi and Islamabad and with the involvement of the people of Kashmir. ``How that's done is really not our business,'' an official said.

Recently, the Pakistani Foreign Minister, Mr. Abdul Sattar, was here before his trip to Washington and the Agra summit figured in the discussions, though not in any detailed fashion. Mr. Sattar is said to have been genuinely pleased with India's initiative and that Pakistan wanted a productive outcome to the talks.

If the Bush administration is closely following the coming summit in Agra, the Liberal Government of Mr. Chretien is not lagging far behind given Ottawa's active interest in forging closer ties with South Asia. An assessment here is that while it will be too much to expect dramatic breakthroughs especially in one sitting, the talks could change the atmospherics between the two countries.