Delegates urge Prime Ministers of India and Pakistan to resume stalled bilateral dialogue, move decisively for normalisation of relations, and jointly work towards realisation of the SAARC Vision
On the invitation of the Regional Peace Institute (RPI), Pakistan, supported by the Hanns Seidel Foundation, Pakistan, a 16-member delegation led by the former Foreign Minister of Pakistan, Mr. Khurshid Mahmud Kasuri, visited India to attend the second round of the Pakistan-India Bilateral Dialogue in New Delhi on November 20-21, 2014. Other members of the delegation included Raoof Hasan, Shaiq Usmani, Isphanyar Bhandara, Ambassador Aziz Ahmed Khan, Harris Khalique, Dr. Ishtiaq Ahmed, Dr. Hassan Shah, Dr. Masooda Bano, Ms. Shala Hasan, Dr. Farzana Bari, Nazish Brohi, Peter Jacob and Faisal Rehman.
Led by Mr. Mani Shankar Aiyar, the Indian delegation comprised Salman Khurshid, Ambassador N.N. Jha, Dilip Padgaonkar, Sunil Kant Munjal, Sandeep Dikshit, Pran Neville, Sudheendra Kulkarni, Ashok Malik, Verghese George, Suhasini Haider, Dr. Ajay Darshan Bahera, Shikhar Singh, Seema Mustafa, Teesta Setalwad, Prof. Hilal Ahmed, Kaveri Bamzai, Dr. Nishi Taneja, Karuna Nundy, Dr. Charu Gupta, Romi Khosla, Anjali Chandel, Ravi Vig, Vidya Shankar Aiyar and Bhuvanaya Vijay.
Hanns Seidel Foundation was represented by Mr. Kristof Duwaerts.
There were four sessions held during the conference dealing with the following subjects:
- Irreversible Engagement: The Political and Security Dimensions
- Unleashing the Business Potential: Trade, Investment and Economic Cooperation
- Constructive Cooperation: Social Sector, Poverty Alleviation, Human Resource Development
- Soft Power: Media, Films, Tourism and People-to-People Contacts
There was a frank, cordial and constructive discussion regarding all issues that have traditionally plagued the relations between the two neighbouring countries. The delegates also noted with concern the lack of progress made since the first round of the RPI’s unofficial Pakistan-India Bilateral Dialogue that took place in Islamabad on June 14, 2014.
The delegates reiterated the desirability – indeed, the imperative need – of peace between the two countries.
They reiterated their resolve to spread the message of peace and normalization of bilateral relations among a larger cross-section of people on both sides of the border. Public awareness should be urgently raised about the need for creating a critical mass of societal and political consensus on tackling all the outstanding tension-generating issues between India and Pakistan.
The delegates noted with concern that the encouraging meeting between the Prime Ministers of the two countries at the time of Mr. Narendra Modi’s inaugural in New Delhi in May 2014 has not been followed up by efforts to move forward on the normalisation process. On the contrary, the envisaged meeting between the foreign secretaries of India and Pakistan got cancelled.
India and Pakistan should not remain hostage to their history of conflict. Rather, they should become a beacon of hope for the entire South-Asian region by making a genuine effort to move beyond conflict. Therefore, the delegates would like to bring the following issues and action points for the urgent consideration of the governments of India and Pakistan:
- The Prime Ministers of India and Pakistan should not miss the opportunity for a much-anticipated resumption of bilateral talks on the sidelines of the SAARC Summit in Kathmandu on November 26-27, 2014.
- The ice-breaking in Kathmandu should be followed by early summit-level talks between the two Prime Ministers, either in New Delhi or Islamabad, with a well-planned and comprehensive agenda. The components of such an agenda are already in place in the several bilateral agreements, declarations and joint statements concluded by the two countries. What is needed is strong political will on both sides, and a determination to resolve all outstanding issues, including Kashmir and cross-border terrorism.
- As agreed to by the two governments in 2005, the dialogue between India and Pakistan should have an irreversible character. It should not be interrupted by differences or unpleasant developments. Experience has shown that tensions have significantly lowered whenever dialogue has continued in an uninterrupted manner.
- The people of the two countries have entrusted their respective governments with the responsibility of normalization of relations. Moreover, the two governments also owe this to the people of other SAARC countries. It is unfortunate that the continuing India-Pakistan gridlock has enormously slowed the realisation of the Vision of SAARC. Therefore, India and Pakistan must achieve significant progress before SAARC celebrates its 30th anniversary next year.
- Acts of terrorism must be condemned and combated with a zero-tolerance approach, irrespective of who masterminds these, what their motives are, and against whom these are perpetrated. Terrorism is a heinous crime which – along with the ideologies of extremism and bigotry fuelling it – has to be eliminated in its entirety. In this context, it should be recognised that Pakistan, like India, has also been a victim of terrorism. Therefore, we urge the two countries to begin cooperation, along with the rest of the international community, to combat the menace of terrorism.
- Simultaneously, strenuous efforts should be initiated to promote and strengthen the common heritage of religious freedom, tolerance, plurality, peace and brotherhood. In particular, the rights of religious minorities in both India and Pakistan must be respected and protected.
- The recent flare-ups along the Line of Control (LoC) have intensified tensions. The killing of many soldiers and civilians on both sides is deeply unfortunate. The Governments of our two countries have a responsibility to ensure non-violation of the ceasefire agreement and to maintain tranquillity along the border.
- The two governments should take strong and speedy steps to remove all impediments in expanding bilateral cooperation in the trade, investment, business and economic spheres. Official two-way trade can be easily quadrupled within the next couple of years from the current level of $ 2.8 billion. This will greatly contribute to employment generation and, consequently, prosperity on both sides.
- For a subcontinent that has a rich spiritual and civilizational heritage, it is a source of concern and discredit that India and Pakistan, and South Asia in general, have the largest concentration of poor people with multiple deprivations. Poverty alleviation must become the highest priority of our two countries. Precisely for this reason, India and Pakistan should increase to the maximum extent possible our expenditure on accelerating socio-economic development and improving the living standards of our common people.
- The security of our two countries can be greatly enhanced by reducing the trust deficit. This can be achieved by expanding the people-to-people connectivity in multiple other sectors – education, healthcare, culture, cinema, music, literature, tourism, scientific research, technological innovation, and disaster management. There is an urgent need, especially, to increase constructive cooperation in social sector development and human resource enrichment by learning from and replicating best practices and success stories. This would further expand and strengthen the constituency of peace. To promote trust and understanding, India and Pakistan should appoint some Goodwill Ambassadors from the civil society, particularly artists, actors, writers and sportspersons.
- The print and television media, along with the rapidly growing social media, in both India and Pakistan have a responsibility not to spread and strengthen prejudices about each other’s country. They also have a responsibility to promote better understanding and disseminate authentic information, which is necessary to remove the prevailing trust deficit.
- There should be a South Asian mechanism for the protection of human rights, with India and Pakistan taking the lead.
- The excruciatingly restrictive visa policy practiced by both India and Pakistan must be liberalized in order to promote people-to-people connectivity. In particular, divided families on both sides of the border should be enabled to reunite by making issuance of visa automatic for them, and also for many other categories of visitors.
- The two countries should open consular offices, beginning immediately with Mumbai and Karachi, to promote both trade-business relations and also people-to-people contacts.
- There is an urgent need for a joint effort by the two governments, and also by the scholars and thought leaders, of India and Pakistan to revisit our shared history, so that our children and youth get a positive understanding, which is so essential for creating a better shared future.
The delegates noted that now is the time for the governments and civil societies in both India and Pakistan to intensify the work for peace. With the two governments well settled in both countries, the respective leaderships should take urgent steps for a peaceful, productive, cooperative and good-neighbourly relationship. They owe this to over 1.5 billion people of our two countries, a majority of whom have languished in the realm of poverty and underdevelopment. The spectre of war is too harrowing a prospect to contemplate, and hence must be delegitimized by both sides. Dialogue, being the only civilized way for the resolution of disputes and conflicts, must be adopted in an uninterrupted and, as far as possible, uninterruptible manner by the two leaderships.
No more false starts, no more half-hearted initiatives, and no more abdication of responsibility to make peace.