ISLAMABAD – Key civil society leaders and opinion makers from Pakistan and India yesterday welcomed the mature and constructive response of the governments of the two countries to the Pathankot attack expressing the hope this would lead to revival of the bilateral dialogue process.
The leaders including parliamentarians, former diplomats, former military officers and policy experts met in Bangkok for the 18th round of the Chaophraya Dialogue from March 18 to 20.
The Chaophraya Dialogue is the longest consistently running Pak-India Track-II jointly administered by the Jinnah Institute and Australia India Institute to encourage informed policy dialogue on Pak-India relations.
The process is now in its eighth year and has so far led to 18 rounds of dialogue.
Pakistani delegates at the 18th Dialogue, which discussed and reviewed the state of bilateral relations in the aftermath of the terrorist attack on Pathankot Airbase in Indian Punjab, were led by Jinnah Institute President Senator Sherry Rehman along with Australia India Institute Director Amitabh Mattoo.
In addition to prospects for bilateral relations, special focus was given to recent tensions in Jammu and Kashmir, the challenge of violent extremism on either side of the border, the ongoing conflict in Afghanistan, prospects for visa liberalisation and regional connectivity, as well as recommendations from two specially designated Task Forces on climate change adaptation and developing alternative histories and narratives that could positively impact public discourse.
Over the course of the two-day dialogue, participants welcomed the mature and constructive response of Pakistan and India to the Pathankot attack and hoped the recent interaction between Adviser to the Prime Minister on Foreign Affairs Sartaj Aziz and Indian External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj in Pokhara, Nepal would lead to a revival of the dialogue process.
They also noted the forthcoming Nuclear Security Summit in Washington this month would offer another window of opportunity for the two prime ministers to recommit themselves to a sustainable roadmap for Pak-India engagement in 2016.
On the issue of terrorism, the delegates welcomed the fact that the governments in Islamabad and New Delhi were increasingly constructive in their engagement aimed at finding joint solutions to the issue of terrorism in South Asia.
In a special session held on regional connectivity, participants urged the governments of both countries to implement previously negotiated roadmaps on visa liberalisation and tourism, and to develop a database of pre cleared, pre verified citizens for ease of visa issuance and travel across borders.
In their deliberations, participants noted that flight options between Pakistan and India were often indirect and costly, and that travel between the two countries could take up to 14 hours, despite 60,000 citizens travelling annually each year.
Two specially designated Task Forces on Climate Change and Histories and Alternative Narratives also presented their findings during the conference.
On climate change, panelists urged both governments to include climate change in their bilateral agenda, particularly on the issues of surface and groundwater; agriculture and food security; glacial melt and the protection and preservation of natural habitats.
The Task Force on Histories and Alternative Narratives, meanwhile, called for curricula reform and student exchanges, that could in turn foster a better understanding of national identities and citizenries in both countries.
On Afghanistan, the delegates lauded the efforts of the Afghan government to combat extremist militancy, but concurrently expressed grave concern at the strength and stability of the National Unity Government in Kabul, which continued to face off a violent insurgency and an uncertain future.
The participants welcomed the signing of the Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India and CASA-1000 projects, and suggested that Pakistan and India consider the possibility of discussions on Afghanistan as part of their bilateral discussions.
The Pakistani delegation led by Senator Sherry Rehman included Ambassador Aziz Ahmad Khan, former Foreign Secretaries Ambassador Najmuddin Shaikh and Ambassador Riaz Mohammed Khan, Ambassador Shafqat Kakakhel, Shafqat Mehmood, Naveed Qamar, Lt-Gen (r) Talat Masood, Air Vice Martial (r) Shahzad Chaudhry, Professor Salima Hashmi, Mosharraf Zaidi, Zahid Hussain, Ali Dayan Hasan, Sehar Tariq, Rafay Alam, Yaqoob Bangash, Fahd Humayun, Sauleha Kamal and Mehmoona Bashar.
Indian participants were led by Professor Amitabh Mattoo, and included Baijayant ‘Jay’ Panda, Amb.
G Parthasarthy, Ambassador Vivek Katju, Ashok Malik, Siddharth Varadarajan, Lt-Gen (r) Ata Hasnain, Prof C Rajamohan, Aarti Tikoo, Dr Happymon Jacob, Dr Gulshan Sachdeva, Prof Shakil Romshoo, Dr Mohan Guruswamy, Prof Meenakshi Gopinath, Shoma Chaudhury and Dr Mallika Joseph.