A whiff of fresh air


WEB DESK: How soon the stalled foreign secretary-level talks between Pakistan and India will resume there is no indication yet. But a bilateral meeting of foreign ministers of Pakistan and India on the sidelines of Saarc ministerial meeting in Nepal on Thursday does indicate its possibility, if not the date. In the wake of this meeting, followed by a brief media conference in Pokhara, some ice on the frozen bilateral relationship has broken.

India has accepted to receive Pakistan’s special investigation team to join on March 28 its Indian counterpart now investigating the Pathankot airbase attack that took place in early January – an incident that derailed bilateral talks envisaged within the framework of the agreed comprehensive dialogue on all outstanding issues, including Kashmir. From day one, Pakistan insisted that at the government level it had absolutely nothing to do with the attack on the airbase. Therefore, it saw no justifiable reason for making this incident an excuse to call off the meeting between the foreign secretaries of the two countries.

And it did offer unreserved cooperation, if asked, to help trace out the culprits and bring them to book. And, when India provided some telephone intercepts suggesting some kind of contact between the men on the ground at the Pathankot airbase and their suspected facilitator, Jaish-e-Mohammad’s chief Maulana Masud Azhar, the Pakistani authorities went whole hog against him and his network.

He was placed under custody, the entity’s offices were sealed and an offer was made to join the investigation – while in the meanwhile Pakistan’s National Security Advisor, Lieutenant General Nasser Khan Janjua (Retd) remained in continuous contact with his Indian counterpart Ajit Doval. That it is a measure of Pakistan’s commitment to ensure that its soil is not used by non-state actors for acts of terrorism in India is a fact that has found its best expression in Islamabad’s prompt sharing of intel about the entry of some 10 militants on mission to cause carnage in Gujarat last week.

That being the degree of cooperation being offered by Pakistan, the expectation here was that the Sartaj-Sushma meeting in Nepal would announce the date of resumption of the Foreign Secretary-level talks. At the Heart of Asia-Istanbul Process in Islamabad in December Sushma had declared: “The world is changing, rooting for a change, and let’s not disappoint them.” We had expected to hear the same from Pokhara. But we are not disappointed. Even when there was not much in terms of concrete output from that meeting, the bonhomie that reportedly obtained in and around the event was sufficiently positive. The foreign ministers had met first at the dinner night before and then at the breakfast – and after the breakfast the two had wandered aside and had a five-minute one-on-one conversation.

That being the emerging ambience, and decision to Pakistan’s SIT joining the investigation the first foot forward, more of the same is hopefully on the line. On March 31, in Washington on the occasion of Nuclear Summit the prime ministers of Pakistan and India are likely to meet; their second meeting in space of three months. On December 25, Prime Minister Narendra Modi had landed at the Nawaz Sharif’s residence in Lahore. Later this year, most probably in November, he will be coming to Islamabad to attend the 19th Saarc Summit. Given political maturity on the part of high leadership these are opportunities that should not be squandered away. Let this whiff of fresh air set off a huge storm sweeping away the vestiges of uncollectable debris of contentious past.

Source: Business Recorder