Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar with her Indian counterpart S.M. Krishna. – File Photo by AFP

ISLAMABAD: Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar told the National Assembly on Tuesday that Pakistan sought to open a “new chapter” in relations with India through renewed peace talks, over which the government promised a debate in the next house session.

In her first speech to the lower house after being promoted to full minister from minister of state last month, she listed achievements of her team’s July 26-27 talks with Indian leaders and officials in New Delhi in which, she said, the two sides agreed to carry forward the dialogue so they could resolve all outstanding issues between them.

“It is our desire to sustain and deepen the engagement process with India,” Ms Khar said about her July 27 talks with her Indian counterpart S.M. Krishna and those between the two countries’ foreign secretaries a day earlier that culminated a five-month first round of the dialogue on all eight points under discussion that previously remained stalled after the Nov 2008 attacks on Mumbai blamed on a Pakistan-based militant group, and added: “We look forward to carrying forward the dialogue process with a view to opening a new chapter in our relations.”

The eight points the two sides have agreed to take up are: counter-terrorism; economic and commercial cooperation; the construction of Wullar barrage, or what India calls Tulbul project, that Pakistan thinks will affect the flow of Jhelum river from Indian-held Kashmir, the disputed Siachen glacier in Kashmir; the dispute over maritime boundary at Sir Creek; peace and security, including confidence-building measures; the dispute over the Jammu and Kashmir state; and promotion of friendly exchanges.

The chief whip of the ruling Pakistan People’s Party (PPP), Khurshid Ahmed Shah, offered a full debate “at the top of the agenda” of the next session of the house on what was described as a policy statement, for which the foreign minister was given the floor by Speaker Fehmida Mirza before a resumption of an inconclusive debate over the recent wave of violence in Karachi and sectarian attacks in Quetta.

The start of the sitting -- after the loss of one full day on Monday due to torrential rain in Islamabad that prevented most lawmakers from reaching the parliament house – was marked by a token walkout by the government-allied Awami National Party (ANP) and then by a senior PPP member, Syed Zafar Ali Shah, to protest against the restoration of the recently scrapped Musharraf-era local government system in Sindh.

And just before the end of the day, the opposition Pakistan Muslim League-N also led a token walkout to protest against the recent increase in natural gas rates, inflated electricity bills, and continuing power cuts, to be joined by junior partners Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) and Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam (JUI).

Ms Khar, who had described her New Delhi meetings, including one with Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, at the time as the beginning of a “new era”, said the present government had made a special effort since coming to power in March 2008 to “reach out to all our neighbours”, especially those with whom we have had some difficulties. “This policy is reflected in our outreach to Afghanistan and India.”

She listed four objectives of resuming the dialogue with India and her India visit: ensuring “uninterrupted and uninterruptible dialogue”, ensuring “a conducive environment” by looking at the relationship between the two countries in a friendly rather than a hostile perspective, finding solutions to “all issues”, and, in this context, remaining “engaged with India “We have positively assessed the outcome of the ministerial level meeting with India as both sides have expressed their satisfaction on the resumption of the dialogue process and have also reaffirmed their commitment to deepen bilateral engagement by building trust and avoiding rhetoric,” Ms Khar said.

“Both sides have underlined the importance of a purposeful and sustained dialogue process to resolve all outstanding issues.

This is without prejudice to our established and well-known position on all the issues including Jammu and Kashmir.”

During the debate on the Karachi situation, PML-N’s Ayaz Amir called for thinking beyond party interests to resolve what he called a serious crisis and evoked some cheers from PPP benches by saying the logic advanced for creating new provinces could not be applied to Sindh province.

PPP’s Gul Mohammad Jakhrani, in a sentimental speech, said any division of Sindh would amount to division of Pakistan -- which he said would never happen – prompting PML-N’s senior figure Javed Hashmi to clarify that he never proposed carving out a new province in Sindh while talking of creating more provinces such as in Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhawa.

ANP’s Pervaiz Khan Advocate demanded that Interior Minister Rahman Malik resign from his office for his role in what he called a political intrigue in Karachi and “joke with democracy” played through a decree by nullifying the Sindh provincial assembly’s legislation that had recently revived what is called the old “commissionerate system” in the province.

PPP’s Nasir Ali Shah from Balochistan called for Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani to step down for the alleged involvement of his son in the Haj scam of alleged corruption in arranging accommodation for Pakistani pilgrims in Makkah last year.

PPP’s Fauzia Wahab from Karachi said the city’s situation reflected what she called confusion and divisions “within ourselves” and called for putting an end to “division (among the people) on linguistic grounds”.

Another PPP member from Karachi and a former minister of state, Nabil Ahmed Gabol, blamed the Karachi situation on a “lack of will” to control violence and accused the interior minister of never consulting the three PPP lawmakers from the city, where he said he could pinpoint 5,000 people possessing illegal arms.

The debate will resume on Wednesday when the house is to meet at 1pm.


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