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ISLAMABAD: Rapprochement eludes Pakistan and India because the two sides cannot agree on issues such as the Kashmir dispute and cross-border terrorism, speakers from the two countries told a seminar held on Thursday.

The panel discussion on ‘Pakistan-India Peace Process and Sharing of Experience on Governance and Democracy’, hosted by the Pakistan Institute of Legislative Development and Transparency (Pildat), featured a candid discussion between Indian and Pakistani speakers, who laid bare the unease that underlies relations between both countries.

Sundheera Kulkarni, a politician and columnist who served as an aide to former Indian Prime Minister Atal Vajpayee, said that both Pakistan and India lacked statesmen with a mindset for bringing the two countries together. He said that at the time of partition, many in India thought Pakistan would not survive for long, a belief the people of Pakistan had proven wrong.

Calling the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) a “game-changer”, Mr Kulkarni said that in order to make economic “miracles” possible, Pakistan must ensure peace, stability and good governance.

Speakers discuss Saarc fiasco, alleged Indian support for TTP as impediments to regional peace, development

CPEC can transform South Asia, he said, adding that he believed in a trilateral partnership between India, Pakistan and China for CPEC, though India’s concerns over the corridor passing through Gilgit-Baltistan will need to be addressed.

Mr Kulkarni said that four major issues needed to be addressed in order to make rapprochement between India and Pakistan a possibility; the first being the Kashmir dispute. At present, he said, both countries claimed rightful ownership of the territory when they needed to accept that the entire Jammu and Kashmir territory belongs to neither.

The second issue, he said, was that of terrorism. The Pakistani judiciary and government seemed reluctant to try suspects thought to be responsible for the Mumbai attacks, he said, adding that both countries needed to work on the issue together, considering the number of lives lost to terrorism on both sides of the border.

The treatment of minorities, he said, was the third issue to be addressed. The 200 million-strong Muslim population in India cannot be called a minority. He said it was “shameful” that Muslims in India and Hindus in Pakistan were harassed.

He said the lack of economic integration between both countries was another issue and again suggested India should be made part of CPEC and that Pakistan be included in the One Belt One Road initiative between Bangladesh, China, India and Myanmar.

Taking the stage, former Pakistani foreign secretary Riaz Hussain Khokhar said Pakistan was ready to build strong ties with India, but New Delhi’s policy to isolate Pakistan could not lead to friendly relations, he said.

He criticised India for calling the Kashmir dispute an internal issue and termed Delhi’s concerns over CPEC, identified by Mr Kulkarni, “irrelevant”.

He recalled the distrust between both countries, criticised India’s role in sabotaging the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (Saarc) conference and blamed it for making Saarc an ineffective organisation.

“The reality is that India has never been serious about talks. We may say we want peace, but we cannot ignore the skirmishes on the line of control, nor can the plight of the Kashmiris be ignored,” he said.

Terrorism is a consequence and not the cause of the issues separating India and Pakistan, he said, adding that issues existed between the two countries before the war on terrorism.

Senior journalist Saleem Safi said there are two routes for CPEC, with the western one being short and less populated and the eastern being longer and more populated.

“We keep hearing the Pakistani prime minister saying that CPEC is about regional connectivity. The eastern route is preferred because it connects with India”, he said.

He also referred to Major General Amir Riaz’s invitation to India for joining CPEC and said India has been busy derailing CPEC and sponsoring proxies to destabilise the project.

Mr Safi then spoke of Islamic militants who had been under the patronage of Pakistan and that Pakistan was now suffering due to its ill-devised policies. He wondered if India was now playing the role Pakistan used to and supporting the Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan. “If the groups supported by Pakistan were not loyal to Pakistan, how will they remain loyal to India?” he asked.

Senator Mushahid Hussein Sayed suggested back-channel negotiations to bridge gaps between the two countries, adding that India should stop opposing Saarc and play a positive role.

Referring to reports on Kashmir from Indian sources, he said that Yashwant Sinha, a former Indian finance minster and senior BJP leader who headed a five-member Delhi group which had recently visited Jammu and Kashmir, had expressed the opinion that Kashmiris were no longer afraid of India, or of tyranny.

The report suggests that concerned Indian authorities should talk to the Hizbul Mujahideen, he said, and that three parties should be involved in the process - India, Pakistan and Kashmir.

Published in Dawn February 17th, 2017