The Foreign Secretary-level talks between India and Pakistan will provide additional momentum to an already successful peace process. It is difficult to take issue with Foreign Secretary Shivshankar Menon’s view that relations between the two “are qualitatively better than they have been for a very, very long time”. His counterpart, Riaz Mohammed Khan, went a step further and declared that this could be “a watershed year” in the two neighbours’ troubled relations.
The laundry-list of decisions released after the two-day meeting indicates that both now have a problem-solving approach and are systematically working the agenda outlined in the February 1999 Lahore Agreement and the January 6, 2004, Musharraf-Vajpayee joint statement. The list contains 12 decisions under the rubric of peace and security, nuclear confidence building measures, Jammu and Kashmir issues, Siachen, and people-to-people contacts. More significant is the reiteration of the need to observe the ceasefire in place along the Line of Control since November 2003; hold discussions on security doctrines; ensure the operationalisation of the agreement to start truck services across the LoC; conclude the bilateral visa agreement and get Defence Secretaries of both countries to take up discussion on Siachen, aided by their respective Directors General of Military Operations.
Islamabad remains a bit nervous about the joint terror mechanism, and understandably so. Having encouraged terrorist acts against India, it is now having to get used to the idea that it must help to root it out. At the joint press conference, Mr Khan sought to give the spin that the mechanism would not apply to J&K. However, the Havana joint statement makes no such distinction and has mandated the mechanism “to identify and implement counter-terrorism initiatives and investigation”. But while Pakistan may not have yet taken the strategic decision to abandon support for terrorism, they do seem to have warmed up to the idea of cross-LoC initiatives, such as the Kargil-Skardu bus service, and has even proposed a helicopter service between the two Kashmirs.