Editorial : A breakthrough - Saturday, February 12, 2011

Source : http://www.dawn.com/2011/02/12/a-breakthrough.html

THE words ‘composite dialogue’ are not there. However, for all practical purposes Pakistan and India have agreed to pursue the peace process that began so hopefully in January 2004 but fell victim to the rude shock that Mumbai was. On the whole, it is a dollop of good news because the agenda leaves out none of the contentious issues that have bedevilled relations between the two countries since independence. The joint statement issued simultaneously in Islamabad and New Delhi on Thursday shows both sides have conceded ground. Mumbai is no more the stumbling block it has been since November 2008, and New Delhi has agreed to talk on all issues, including — to Islamabad’s satisfaction — Jammu and Kashmir. The “Mumbai trial” finds mention in the statement but as part of talks on “counter-terrorism”. The foreign minister, it has been agreed, will visit New Delhi before July, preceded by a meeting between the two foreign secretaries, to whom credit goes for quietly working out in Thimphu on Feb 6 a mutually acceptable agenda.

But — we have been here before. If Pakistani and Indian officials and ministers meet, it would not be the first time in their torrid history. Just as there is a history of conflict between the two countries, so also has there been a long tradition of bilateral troubleshooting. Not all powwows failed. Ignoring Simla, which took place after the 1971 war, there has been an agreement on not attacking each other’s nuclear installations besides many subsidiary agreements, like the rail and bus services and cultural exchanges flowing from the composite dialogue.

What is it that has prompted them to undertake the momentous task of restarting the peace process pregnant with possibilities? First, it is common sense. Geography and geopolitical realities cannot be wished away. Peace and stability are in their mutual interest, and the two have realised after more than two years of ‘no war, no peace’ that the status quo is not in their mutual interest. Second, foreign advice, if not pressure from common friends, is obviously there. Third, terrorism continues to be a real challenge to both and cannot be rooted out without sincere cooperation. An act of terror, whether in Mardan or Mumbai, has disastrous economic effects and no one notes it more than foreign investors. Will the talks proceed smoothly? The question is justified, because the India-Pakistan relationship is accident-prone and full of mistrust. Why not go straight for a Siachen pullout as decided way back and clinch a deal on Sir Creek on whose joint survey they agreed in 2006?

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