India and Pakistan have once again agreed that dialogue is the better part of diplomacy. After a two-session, hour-long meeting between Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and President Pervez Musharraf, the two countries on Saturday agreed to resume foreign secretary-level talks after a break of nearly eight months.
The two leaders read out a joint statement in Havana strongly condemning terrorism and, specifically, the recent Mumbai blasts. The statement, said officials, was an indication of the broad agreement on the need to deepen the dialogue process.
India and Pakistan have agreed to “put in place an India-Pakistan anti-terrorism institutional mechanism to identify and implement counter-terrorism initiatives and investigations”. Pakistan will reiterate its earlier commitment to prevent its territory from being used for acts of terrorism against India.
Another indicator that things are back on track is Musharraf’s renewal of his invitation to Singh to visit Pakistan. According to the statement, the Indian PM indicated that he "looked forward to a purposeful visit" but its timing would be determined through diplomatic channels. It is no secret that through most of the year Islamabad has been awaiting an Indian prime ministerial visit and the fact that there were no indications that it was taking place was seen as a signal that there was slow-down in the peace process.
The joint statement calls for accelerated dialogue on issues like the Siachen glacier and the Sir Creek issues, both of which are close to agreement, but both of which need a final push for resolution. A joint survey of Sir Creek has been scheduled for November. The two sides have also addressed the subject of opening further road links between the two countries.
There are two cross-border road links proposed by India that are still awaiting the green light from Pakistan. These are the roads from Kargil to Skardu and from Jammu to Sialkot.
Singh and Musharraf held talks between 10 and 11 am at the Cuban government’s Protocol House. The leaders met later again at the Convention Centre, one of the venues for the 14th Nonaligned Summit presently being held in Havana, to release the statement.
The likelihood of a joint statement had been considered remote before the Havana meeting, given the bilateral war of words that preceded the summit. That they agreed to release the statement jointly was an indication of the broad agreement to deepen the dialogue process.
The last foreign secretary level talks took place in New Delhi on 17-18 January this year. The next round, scheduled for July, had been put off following the strong public reaction to the Mumbai bomb blasts.
Prime Minister Singh is believed to have concluded that developing a better relationship with Pakistan will be the key element in the “unfinished agenda” of his foreign policy over the next few years.
He believes that the Pakistan question has to be answered if India is to successfully fulfill its economic and political goals in the coming decades. As he said in Orissa in late August, “We can choose our friends…but not our neighbours.”