Ex-FM admits India failed to work for peace with Pakistan
Salman Khurshid says brave and far-sighted Nawaz took part in Modi’s oath-taking ceremony; lauds Pak fight against terrorism
By our correspondents
November 13, 2015
ISLAMABAD: India has not responded to Pakistan’s overtures for peace in South Asia the way it should have. This was the assertion made by former Indian Foreign Minister Salman Khurshid speaking at the latest round of Jinnah Institute’s Distinguished Speaker Series in Islamabad on Thursday. Khurshid said that it was courageous, brave and far-sighted of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif to attend Prime Minister Modi’s oath-taking ceremony in May 2013. “However, the BJP led-government in India had failed to adequately reciprocate Islamabad’s peace overtures. Since 1947 the world had found solutions to several intractable disputes and conflicts, while the India-Pakistan confrontation remained largely unchanged. Khurshid was of the opinion that Prime Minister Modi is still learning how to be a statesman, and if India wanted to move forward in its dialogue with Pakistan, it would have to take care not to unsettle the democratic political dispensation in Islamabad. “A stable and successful Pakistan was in India’s interest, and vice-versa: ‘India has a stake in the success of Pakistan far greater than the usefulness of a counterargument against its initial conception,’ he maintained. While terrorism against any country was completely unacceptable, Pakistan itself had not been spared from this scourge. Khurshid also praised Pakistan’s fight against terrorism, and acknowledged Pakistan’s role in fighting a difficult war in its tribal areas. Speaking on the occasion, President Jinnah Institute and former Ambassador to the United States Senator Sherry Rehman noted that there were as many roads to peace and stability as there were to war and conflict in South Asia. Senator Rehman underscored that Pakistan was presently fighting one of the biggest inland wars ever fought, with little international help. “On the foreign policy front, it still remained to be seen whether New Delhi had a clear policy on Pakistan. In contrast, political parties across-the-board in Islamabad were unequivocal and on the same page when it came to making peace with India,” she said. She warned, however, that the strong public consensus in Pakistan for improved relations with India was breaking down due to conditionality and stark messaging by New Delhi. Senator Rehman maintained that Pakistan was a multi-layered and inclusive society, and that Jinnah Institute had worked hard to push for a pro-minority rights agenda in the country. “The Track 2 exchanges between India and Pakistan were critical because of the cognitive disconnect between the two sides,” she added. Simultaneously, she said a new generation of youngsters in both countries was busy constructing new identities and ideas of themselves and their neighbour. She further asserted that there were no fireworks in Pakistan following November’s Bihar election; indeed Pakistan was facing its own slate of difficult challenges. Also speaking on the panel, former Foreign Secretary Riaz Khokhar was of the opinion that the past year had seen a number of setbacks for India-Pakistan relations. He noted that trade between the two sides would be favourable for both sides, but it was an unfortunate reality that economic and regional connectivity in South Asia continued to be held hostage to political stalemate. Meanwhile, Jinnah Institute Honourary Vice President Aziz Ahmed Khan felt that the BJP government in New Delhi had already wasted too much time, and must now seriously move forward on all bilateral issues with Pakistan including connectivity. During a lively and interactive Q&A session with the audience, Salman Khurshid suggested that thought leaders and opinion makers from both countries should write in each other’s newspapers more often. He was also of the opinion that divided families from either side of the border should be allowed multiple entry visas to facilitate travel. Khurshid also maintained that Pakistan should not view India as just a Hindu country. By 2020, India would have a larger Muslim population than either Indonesia or Pakistan, and India was proud of its secular ethos. He also acknowledged and praised Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s remarks to the Hindus of Pakistan on the occasion of Diwali, and referenced Quaid-i-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah’s speech on secularism. The DSS is a long-running exchange of thought leaders between India and Pakistan, jointly managed by Jinnah Institute and Australia India Institute. The series has previously hosted by Shashi Tharoor, Wajahat Habibullah, Mani Shankar Aiyer and. Siddharth Varadarajan in Islamabad.