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Breakthrough at ‘Heart of Asia’: Pakistan, India to resume ‘comprehensive’ talks

Updated December 10, 2015

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ISLAMABAD: Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif meets Indian Foreign Minister Sushma Swaraj at the Heart of Asia – Istanbul Process meeting here on Wednesday. – White Star
ISLAMABAD: Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif meets Indian Foreign Minister Sushma Swaraj at the Heart of Asia – Istanbul Process meeting here on Wednesday. – White Star

ISLAMABAD: In a major breakthrough, Pakistan and India announced on Wednesday that they were resuming the dialogue on outstanding issues, ending a two-year long stalemate.

The ‘Comprehensive Bilateral Dialogue’ as it has been named will include all elements covered under the previous versions of the talks — peace and security, confidence-building measures, Jammu and Kashmir, Siachen, Sir Creek, Wullar Barrage / Tulbul Navigation Project, economic and commercial cooperation, counter-terrorism, narcotics control and humanitarian issues, people-to-people exchanges and religious tourism.

The revival of the dialogue was announced by Indian External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj, who was here to attend the Heart of Asia ministerial conference, after her meetings with Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and Adviser on Foreign Affairs Sartaj Aziz.

“I have good news for you. The Composite Dialogue between our two countries, which later became the Resumed Dialogue, is being restarted as Comprehensive Bilateral Dialogue and would have same pillars as the earlier processes,” she told journalists as she came out of a conference room after over an hour meeting with her Pakistani counterpart Mr Aziz at the Foreign Office.

She said “more components” could be added to the dialogue, if required.

The foreign secretaries of both countries will now meet to work out the schedule for meetings under the restarted process and modalities for these talks. While the two secretaries will decide about the interlocutors for different segments of the dialogue, it has already been decided that the talks on terrorism concerns will take place at the level of national security advisers (NSAs).


Sushma Swaraj calls for collective regional effort to combat terrorism


The rapprochement is, importantly, based on a commitment by Pakistan that it would expedite the trial of Mumbai accused — a promise that Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif also made during his visit to the White House in November, where he had pledged to take effective action against Lashkar-e-Taiba and its affiliates.

The snail-paced trial that also saw bail for the principal accused, Zakiur Rehman Lakhvi, has been a major roadblock towards the resumption of contacts.

The two sides acknowledged that it was the “successful” NSAs meeting in Bangkok on security concerns that eventually helped them overcome the impasse in ties.

The agreement on resuming the dialogue came after a series of high-level contacts between the two sides last week. Prime Ministers Nawaz Sharif and Narendra Modi first met in Paris on the sidelines of the Climate Change summit. Their brief interaction, which took place through British mediation, was followed by a meeting of their national security advisers in Bangkok.

The engagement that started from Paris was the fourth attempt to normalise the ties since Mr Modi became the prime minister. All three previous attempts, including PM Sharif’s visit to Delhi for attending Modi’s inauguration, a secret meeting in Kathmandu on the margins of Saarc summit and the two prime ministers’ meeting in Ufa (Russia) on the sidelines of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation summit, failed.

Earlier speaking at the Heart of Asia ministerial conference, Ms Swaraj sounded conciliatory towards Pakistan as she called for a collective regional effort to fight terrorism.

“It is the collective duty of all of us to ensure that the forces of terrorism and extremism do not find sanctuaries and safe havens in any name, form or manifestation,” she said.

She called for India’s inclusion in the Afghanistan-Pakistan Transit Trade Agreement. India, she added, was willing to join the APTTA.

Pakistan does not allow Afghan trucks to reach India and carry back Indian goods. Afghanistan, in return, is not allowing Pakistan to reach Central Asia through its territory.

Published in Dawn, December 10th, 2015