Experts Ask India, Pak To Re-engage On Kashmir31 January 2011
New Delhi: In the wake of differences emerging between India and Pakistan on the agenda of the forthcoming foreign secretary level talks in the Bhutanese capital of Thimphu, a group of experts have asked both countries to re-engage in finding an amicable settlement on Jammu and Kashmir (J&K). India is describing the forthcoming talks in Thimphu scheduled on February 6-7 as “exploratory.” Officials here have made it clear that they will focus on smaller steps like the visa protocol, facilitating the release of prisoners, consular access and visit of judicial committees and movement of people, rather than bigger issues, to help create a conducive atmosphere for the dialogue process. The attitude of both sides has raised the fear of a recurrence of the July 2010 meeting of foreign ministers in Islamabad, which not only failed, but created more mistrust. A group of experts that met in Bangkok recently has called for a formal bilateral dialogue process backed by back-channel to take up the Kashmir issue. “We agree with the broad vision of India-Pakistan relations in which borders cannot change but can indeed be made irrelevant. We resolve that a dialogue between the two countries should include discussions on Jammu and Kashmir. The formal bilateral dialogue should be complemented by back-channel contacts. The people of J&K should be appropriately consulted in this process,” said the experts, who included former military officers, ambassadors and academics. At the end of a two-day meeting jointly organised by the Jinnah Institute, Islamabad, and Institute of Peace and Conflict Studies, Delhi, a statement lamented at the absence of a formal and sustained engagement between the two countries, describing it an unhealthy, counterproductive and dangerous. “We note with disappointment the difficulty in people-to-people contact because of the increasingly restrictive visa regime. We urge the two governments to adopt a more rational visa policy that facilitates contacts, particularly between journalists, academics, students and business people,” the statement said. It also underlined the need for an institutionalised and regular dialogue between the intelligence agencies of the two countries. Asking Pakistan to bring perpetrators of the 2008 Mumbai attacks to justice as soon as possible, the statement also asked India to accentuate probe into the 2007 Samjhauta Express train bombing. “India has to expeditiously prosecute those involved and keep Pakistan informed. It is imperative that the continuous exchange of information on incidents of terrorism takes place,” the statement said. The group also recommended the setting up of a bilateral study group to provide inputs for policy formulation on the issue of military and nuclear confidence-building measures (CBMs). The statement further asked for a trilateral dialogue between China, India and Pakistan to promote strategic stability with a focus on the logic of sufficiency of arsenals. Those who had attended the meeting included Sherry Rehman, president, Jinnah Institute, former chief of army staff of the Pakistan Army Jehangir Karamat, ambassador (retd.) Humayun Khan, and others.