India and Pakistan have agreed to hold a comprehensive bilateral dialogue on outstanding issues, including terrorism and Kashmir. The breakthrough followed several high-level contacts after a prolonged period of ups and downs in ties.
The announcement on the resumption of dialogue was made by external affairs minister Sushma Swaraj during a joint news conference with Sartaj Aziz, the Pakistani Prime Minister’s foreign policy adviser.
The details will be known only after Swaraj makes a statement in Parliament. Here is what we know so far:
1. India and Pakistan will have a ‘comprehensive bilateral dialogue’. The new word ‘comprehensive’ replaces ‘composite’ in the structured dialogue between the two sides. The composite dialogue, initiated in 1997 by the then prime ministers IK Gujral and Nawaz Sharif, had progressed unsteadily till it hit a roadblock after the 2008 Mumbai terror attacks. The comprehensive dialogue will have the eight baskets of issues that were part of the earlier composite dialogue, and two additional components. Two new components are humanitarian issues and religious tourism. Already on the table were peace and security, confidence-building measures, Jammu and Kashmir, Siachen, Sir Creek, Wullar barrage/Tulbul navigation project, economic and commercial cooperation, counter-terrorism, narcotics control and people-to-people contacts.
2 . For the first time, the two national security advisers will play a key role in talks. The joint statement said Swaraj and Aziz had noted the successful talks on terrorism and security-related issues by the NSAs in Bangkok and decided that the “NSAs will continue to address all issues connected to terrorism”. Under the composite dialogue format, terrorism was handled by the foreign secretaries.
3. Pakistan has assured India of the steps being taken to expedite the early conclusion of the Mumbai attack trial . This is to address India’s concerns about the prosecution of those arrested for planning and executing the 26/11 attacks, including Lashkar-e-Taiba commander Zakiur Rehman Lakhvi
4. There is no green signal yet to cricketing ties between the two nations. Pakistan Cricket Board chief Shahryar Khan was quoted in the local media as saying that India “did not respond positively” to proposals for a bilateral cricket series.
5. Swaraj confirmed Prime Minister Narendra Modi will visit Pakistan to attend the SAARC Summit, expected to be held in September 2016. “He will be coming,” she told the media. This will be the first visit by an Indian prime minister since 2004, when Atal Bihari Vajpayee had attended a SAARC Summit.
6. The two foreign secretaries will decide the schedule and modalities for taking the dialogue process forward. The details will be known only after Swaraj makes a statement in Parliament on the latest developments.