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'Comprehensive Bilateral Dialogue': India agrees to discuss J&K, other disputes

Pakistan and India announced on Wednesday that the two neighbours would commence "Comprehensive Bilateral Dialogue" which will cover all the issues that were part of the composite dialogue. The announcement was made at a joint news conference by Indian External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj and Adviser to the Prime Minister on Foreign Affairs Sartaj Aziz after bilateral talks on the sidelines of the Fifth Ministerial Conference of the Heart of Asia-Istanbul Process.

"I am going to share with you the news, for which we were waiting since morning is that both the countries have agreed on commencement of comprehensive bilateral dialogue," she announced, saying it was that "breakthrough" for which the people of the two countries were eagerly waiting. She further said the dialogue process which was earlier known as "composite dialogue" and later it was called as "resumed dialogue" but now we have agreed to call it commencement of "Comprehensive Bilateral Dialogue".

The Comprehensive Bilateral Dialogue, she stated would comprise all the pillars which were part of the composite dialogue, adding apart from them, other issues could also be included in the dialogue process. She said the foreign secretaries of the two countries have been asked to set together for setting up the schedule and modalities for taking forward the dialogue.

Schedule, she explained, is that the two foreign secretaries will finalise the dates and the nature of the future meetings, and modalities, to determine the meetings at the level of various secretaries and the nature of the meetings. "But the most important thing is that the process which had been stalled in the name of composite dialogue or resumed dialogue will now re-initiate, as decided by the two countries in today's meeting," she added.

She further said she was pleased that her meetings with Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, separately held earlier in the day and with his adviser on foreign affairs Sartaj Aziz were "very good". Both Sushma Swaraj and Sartaj Aziz refused to take media's queries on various other issues including the prospects of a cricket series between the two countries.

Earlier in the day, Swaraj told reporters that Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi will also visit Pakistan next year to attend the SAARC Summit. "He [Modi] will be coming," she told reporters on the sidelines of the Heart of Asia conference when asked whether Modi will visit Pakistan to attend the next year's SAARC summit. A joint statement was also issued after the talks; according to which, the Indian external affairs minister and the adviser condemned terrorism and resolved to cooperate to eliminate it. They noted the successful talks on terrorism and security related issues in Bangkok by the two NSAs and decided that the NSAs will continue to address all issues connected to terrorism. The Indian side was assured of the steps being taken to expedite the early conclusion of the Mumbai trial.

It added: "Both sides, accordingly, agreed to a Comprehensive Bilateral Dialogue and directed the Foreign Secretaries to work out the modalities and schedule of the meetings under the Dialogue including Peace and Security, CBMs, Jammu & Kashmir, Siachen, Sir Creek, Wullar Barrage/Tulbul Navigation Project, Economic and Commercial Cooperation, Counterterrorism, Narcotics Control and Humanitarian Issues, People to People exchanges and Religious Tourism."

Sushma Swaraj led the India delegation and Foreign Secretary S Jaishankar, Indian Ambassador to Kabul Amar Sinha, Indian High Commissioner to Pakistan Dr TCA Raghavan and Joint Secretary Gopal Baglay assisted the external affairs minister in the talks. While Pakistan's side was led by Sartaj Aziz and assisted by Prime Minister's Special Assistant Tariq Fatemi, Foreign Secretary Aizaz Ahmad Chaudhry and Pakistan's High Commissioner to India Abdul Basit.

The Comprehensive Bilateral Dialogue will replace the Composite Dialogue or Resumed Dialogue, which covered eight baskets of issues: i) Peace and Security including confidence building measures (CBMs); ii) Jammu and Kashmir (J&K); iii) Siachen; iv) Wullar Barrage/Tulbul Navigation Project; v) Sir Creek; vi) Economic and Commercial Cooperation; vii) Terrorism and Drug Trafficking; and, viii) Promotion of Friendly Exchanges in various fields. However, the dialogue process which was restarted by the then Indian PM I.K. Gujral and Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif in 1997, at Male SAARC Summit, could not make progress due to the 1998 nuclear tests and the Kargil conflict.

Copyright Business Recorder, 2015