Relaxing visa restrictions for increased people-to-people-contact and ensuring an enabling climate for talks are the way forward in promoting India-Pakistan ties that suffered a setback in the aftermath of the 26/11 Mumbai attacks.
That was the consensual outcome at a panel discussion on “Waging Peace in Times of Conflict” that had Union finance minister Pranab Mukherjee, BJP leader and former external affairs minister Yaswhant Sinha and former Union minister Mani Shankar Aiyar expressing their views on the state of India-Pakistan ties here on Tuesday. The seminar marked the 10th anniversary of the South Asian Free Media Association (SAFMA).
While Aiyar reiterated his call for an “uninterruptible and uninterrupted” dialogue mechanism, Sinha warded off criticism about his party’s hard stance on India-Pakistan talks. “Who can oppose the Vajpayee line in BJP?” he said, recalling measures the Atal Bihari Vajpayee regime initiated for improving relations with Pakistan.
Sinha explained the events leading to the January 6, 2004 joint statement after Vajpayee’s talks with General Pervez Musharraf in Islamabad.
Significantly, he backed SAFMA secretary general Imtiaz Alam’s proposal for renewed contact between parliamentarians from the two nations, suggesting the exercise be held away from media glare to ensure serious exchange of views.
“Ajmal Kasab did not get a visa from Indian High Commission in Pakistan to come to India. Why are you making it difficult for people to come and meet their families?” Aiyar asked.
Mukherjee favoured free flow of information between India and Pakistan, admitting that some obstacles remained to be addressed in the visa regime.
Taking a cue from the US-Vietnam talks that went on for years at the Majestic Hotel in Paris in the middle of hostilities between the two countries, Aiyar said the dialogue process between India and Pakistan could be made “uninterrupted and uninterruptible.”
Sinha stressed the need to go beyond traditional thinking in government on India-Pakistan ties. He said the matter couldn’t just be left to joint secretaries on either side. But he hastened to remind the audience that he and Aiyar were once joint secretaries as officers of the Indian Administrative Service and the Indian Foreign Service.
Subhash Chopra, a SAFMA member, presented copies of his book, Partition, Jihand and Peace, to the guests.