The gathering of the Pakistani and Indian delegates in Islamabad on June 14 to discuss ways and means to push forward the momentum for peace was marked by an uncommon level of frankness and cordiality which is also reflected in the drafting and release of a Joint Declaration at the end of the one-day conference.
Held under the umbrella theme of “Rationalising a Peace Discourse in South-Asia: Prospects, Challenges and Opportunities”, the track-11 gathering brought together people from divergent backgrounds. India was represented by Salman Khurshid, the former external affairs minister of India, Mani Shankar Aiyar, the former energy minister of India, Narendra Nath Jha, a former ambassador and a key BJP strategist, members of the academia and media. Khurshid Kasuri, former foreign minister, General (r) Ehsan ul Haq, former Chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee, Raoof Hasan, Executive Director, RPI, Shahnaz Wazirali, former Advisor to the government of Pakistan, Lt. Gen. (R) Asad Durrani, former DG, ISI, Bushra Gohar, Riaz H. Khokhar, Aziz Ahmad Khan, Ziauddin Ahmad, Arif Nizami and a member of the business community represented Pakistan.
Four sessions were held during the course of a single day dealing with the dialogue process as being the key to peace, economic relations, social linkages and the role of the media. Each session was marked by a healthy outpouring of ideas that were recommended to be taken to advance the cause of peace between the two neighbouring countries.
The Executive Director of the Regional Peace Institute, in his opening remarks, said that “there is no dearth of realisation on both sides that peace is desirable, in fact inevitable, but there are impediments in its way. Some of these are genuine which emanate from a protracted history of enmity, but most are artificial which primarily reflect a fear syndrome on both sides as well as a high level of trust deficit. This, unfortunately, precludes any prospect of change and the evolving of a momentum toward peace that would inspire confidence. The two sides need to work on dissociating from the bitter legacy of the past and driving the fear factor out of the effort to help the two countries agree on a minimum common agenda for peace.”
Khurshid Kasuri, Salman Khurshid and Mani Shankar Aiyar welcomed the convening of the conference at a critical juncture when a new Indian government had just been inducted into office and there had already been some initial contact between the leaderships of the two countries. The need was to build on this interaction and move quickly towards restoring an irreversible and uninterrupted dialogue to discuss all outstanding issues.
The delegates from both the countries, in their presentations, supported the idea of strengthening and expanding the scope of the bilateral dialogue and make this a continuous process so that more opportunities could be provided to a larger number of people from the two countries to interact and discuss proposals to manage all outstanding issues.
The Joint Declaration, issued at the conclusion of the conference, stated that “the desirability of peace with justice and equity for both sides was accepted by all delegates and it was resolved that this message should be carried across to a larger cross-section of people on both sides of the border”.
The participants agreed that all the issues that had, in the past, formed part of the composite dialogue including contentious ones like Kashmir and the incidents of terrorist violence should be discussed by the two governments. In doing so, progress made in, and consensus arrived at, in previous parleys, should become the basis for achieving rapid progress with concrete results in a reasonably short time.
The delegates felt that enhanced connectivity in the economic and social sectors could greatly contribute in furthering the prospects of peace. The key role that the media needed to play in carrying forth this message of peace to the people of the two countries was also highlighted. The delegates felt that media should project a positive image of Pakistan in India and of India in Pakistan at the grassroots level to broaden the constituency of peace in both countries.
The delegates also felt that “there was an urgent need for the two governments to take all such measures as are necessary to expand and deepen social bonds between the people of the two countries. In particular, divided families on both sides of the border should be enabled to reunite by easing the visa procedures. Issuance of visa should also be made simpler, indeed automatic for many categories, to enable a wide range of professionals as well as tourists to travel from one country to the other”.
The Joint Declaration stated that “there are two fights that both Pakistan and India need to fight: the fight within and the fight without. The fight within relates to addressing the fear factor and the fight without is to engage with each other in an irreversible and uninterrupted dialogue that encompasses all areas of contention”. To facilitate and strengthen the linkages in various fields between the two countries, the Joint Declaration recommended the opening of an Indian consulate in Karachi and a Pakistani consulate in Mumbai. It also urged the Indian government that “Jinnah House in Mumbai should be handed over to Pakistan to open its consular office there”.
The Joint Declaration concluded by stating that “the present time is most propitious for the two governments to engage with each other because the two recently-elected leaderships have the capacity to take challenging decisions. The need is for the two leaderships to transcend the bitter legacy of the past and enter the domain of hope for the underprivileged and impoverished people of the region. The positive vibes that such reconciliation will send to the entire South-Asian region are immense which would usher in an unprecedented era of multidimensional progress and prosperity”.
The conference provided an effective platform to the delegates of the two countries to work closely together regarding proposals and initiatives that could contribute to bringing the two countries closer. It was also decided to continue this process into the future and an effort will be made to hold the next round of talks in India.