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Published in the 16-31 Jan 2004 print edition of MG; send me the print edition

Finally, realism dawns upon India, Pakistan
By S Ubaidur Rahman

After months of uncertainty, acrimony, denials and rebuffs Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee not only went to Pakistan and attended the SAARC summit but also talked to the Pak President Pervez Musharraf. The much talked about visit of the PM brought cheer for Musharraf including a quarter billion people of both the South Asian neighbours.

Concluding his tour, Vajpayee expressed satisfaction over the joint declaration with Musharraf and vowed to carry the peace process forward. The first talks between the two nuclear powered rivals since the military stand-off in 2002 resulted in historic agreement to resume dialogue from February on all issues including Kashmir.

The joint declaration mirrored the thaw in relations between the two nations, and stated, "The President of Pakistan and the Prime Minister of India met during the SAARC [South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation] summit in Islamabad. The Indian Prime Minister while expressing satisfaction over the successful conclusion of the SAARC Summit appreciated the excellent arrangements made by the host country. Both leaders welcomed the recent steps towards normalization of relations between the two countries and expressed the hope that the positive trends set by the CBMs [Confidence Building Measures] would be consolidated. Prime Minister Vajpayee said that in order to take forward and sustain the dialogue process, violence, hostility and terrorism must be prevented. President Musharraf reassured Prime Minister Vajpayee that he will not permit any territory under Pakistan 's control to be used to support terrorism in any manner. President Musharraf emphasized that a sustained and productive dialogue addressing all issues would lead to positive results."

Regarding the resumption of peace process, the joint declaration said: "To carry the process of normalisation forward the President of Pakistan and the Prime Minister of India agreed to commence the process of the composite dialogue in February 2004. The two leaders are confident that the resumption of the composite dialogue will lead to peaceful settlement of all bilateral issues, including Jammu Kashmir, to the satisfaction of both sides." 

The visit made progress in almost all the fields, from trade to Kashmir and took care of issues that needed immediate attention. It was for the first time that Pakistan assured India that it would not allow the Pakistan held areas of Kashmir to be used by insurgents against India. Indian External Affairs Minister Yashwant Sinha who played a big part in hard negotiations between the two countries was overjoyed at the progress made during his stay in Pakistan. Sinha said that there should be no anticipation or speculation in this regard [peace process].

Pakistani President who seriously wished to make the Vajpayee visit a success said that India and Pakistan should leave aside old differences and take steps to usher peace in the Subcontinent. He said both countries had shown flexibility in recent times to keep the recently-initiated peace process on track. Describing the resumption of a composite dialogue between India and Pakistan as a victory for "moderates" in the two countries, he said it was made possible by the "vision and statesmanship" of Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee. 

Musharraf agreed that "there is a thaw in Indo-Pak relations in the past few months because of positive actions taken by both sides. There is a desire on both sides to take this process forward towards normalisation of relations." He said, "We must not get involved (as to) who won or who lost. There are no winners or losers. It is a victory for all the peace-loving people of the world, victory for the people of India and Pakistan, victory for the people of Kashmir who have suffered all these years and are still suffering and victory for the moderates in India and Pakistan."

Both countries through SAARC also agreed to improve their business relations through SAFTA. Focus on economic relations will also bring a healthy measure of realism in Pakistani thinking about India. Earlier, Pakistan was resisting the implementation of South Asian Free Trade Area, but has now come to realise that its economy cannot take off without opening it up and building competitive products. So far Pakistan feared that Indian products would invade Pakistani markets and its domestic industries would suffer. 

India already has Free Trade Agreements with Nepal and Sri Lanka and is now negotiating with Bangladesh. Pakistan wishes to compete with India in every field but is far behind on the economic front. While India’s economy is marching ahead with around seven to eight percent growth rate, Pakistan’s sluggish economy is unable to go past the four percent growth rate. It is exactly opposite to what used to be just two decades ago when the Pakistani economy was one of the most structured and strongest economies in the South Asian region. Indian economy has grown at a handsome pace and it has a GDP of $2.7 trillion (Purchasing power parity) as compared to Pakistan's $295 billion (PPP) or just 11 per cent of India's.

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