Talks offer hopes for South Asia

The Resumption of talks between Pakistan and India would definitely not bring about an immediate change in the lives of one and half billion people living in the region, but the initiative does offer hope for peace and stability in an area described by US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton as the “most dangerous place in the world.”
Indian Foreign Secretary Nirupama Rao and her Pakistani counterpart Salman Bashir met for three hours in New Delhi to resume the dialogue after a break of 14 months.
The nuclear-armed south Asian rivals started a composite dialogue in 2004 to resolve contentious issues but the peace process was put on halt after devastating 2008 Mumbai attacks. The expectation from the fresh talks are not very high but the mere fact that the nuclear-armed rivals sat down together marks a step forward for two countries that have fought three wars against each other.
The talks have been reportedly initiated through the mediation of United States, as it wants to calm the tensions to enable Pakistan to concentrate on its war against militants, which is vital for US success in Afghan war.
However there are conflicting reports about the agenda of the talks. The Indian authorities insist that the talks are focused only Pakistan-based militancy, while the Pakistani delegation has been stressing the need to discuss all issues including Kashmir, water dispute and reported Indian involvement in creating unrest in Balochistan.
The Himalayan region of Kashmir is held in part by Pakistan and India, but claimed in full by both. Pakistani head of delegation Salman Bashir also met with senior Kashmiri separatist leaders in New Delhi, signalling Islamabad’s intention of keeping Kashmir on the agenda of negotiations.
After the talks on Thursday, Indian Foreign Secretary Nirupama Rao said that the meeting marked a “first step” towards rebuilding trust between the nuclear-armed neighbours.
“We had set out to take a first step towards rebuilding trust and I believe my meeting with the Pakistan foreign secretary constituted that first step,” Rao said.
It is heartening to note that the two sides agreed to continue dialogue.
“We have agreed to remain in touch,” Rao said. However she maintained that the time was “not right as yet” to resume a full-fledged peace dialogue as requested by Pakistan.
As far as the people of India and Pakistan are concerned, there is a growing realisation that the war hysteria is not taking the two countries anywhere. The educated middle class which is growing in number in both countries wants their respective government to allocate resources for education, health and development rather than buying new aircrafts, missile systems and submarines.
Pakistan is spending 343 billion rupees (US$4.2 billion) on defence this year while India has allocated an amount of US$28.9 billion for defence expenditure. The educated class understands that this huge amount could be spent on their welfare if the peace process succeeds. However there are still pro-war elements on both sides, which are pressing both political governments against making peace moves. But their number is dwindling and peace constituencies are growing on both sides.
One can hope that the leadership of the two countries will not succumb to the pressure of war-lobbies. There is need for constant and meaningful dialogue between the two neighbours to ensure sustainable peace in the region. This will ensure a better future for the people of the two countries.

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