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We have to learn from history, FS says in Islamabad

June 23, 2011 13:03 IST
Since Pakistan is in the middle of an intense regional and internal issue, the Rao-Bashir talks are not the "major attraction" in Islamabad, reports Sheela Bhatt from the Pakistani capital

Foreign Secretary Nirupama Rao arrived in Islamabad on Thursday by a special flight to hold talks with her Pakistani counterpart Salman Bashir on 'Peace and security', which will also include Confidence Building Measures, Jammu & Kashmir and the promotion of friendly exchanges between the two countries.

On her arrival, she said she expects "an open and constructive approach" while conducting dialogue with Pakistan.

Talking to the media she said, "I am very pleased to be in Pakistan on the invitation of my distinguished colleague, Foreign Secretary Salman Bashir. This is an important visit as it marks the penultimate leg of the resumed dialogue process before the visit of the foreign minister of Pakistan to India by July 2011."

She also said India wants a stable, peaceful and prosperous Pakistan.

Her talks were part of a bigger process, she added. "We have a complex relationship and we have to learn lessons from that history."

It is interesting to note that while India will conduct on June 24 an exclusive session to discuss 'Jammu and Kashmir', Pakistan Occupied Kashmir will go to the polls on June 26.

Elections for 41 general seats of the "AJK" (Azad JK, as POK is referred to across the border) legislative assembly are scheduled to be held on Sunday and in the election battleground of internet and newspapers, political leaders and activists are discussing the conduct of "free and fair polls."

There is only one woman candidate out of the 400 in the electoral fray in which around three million voters are expected to exercise their franchise.

The Muslim Conference, the ruling party, is struggling to retain power in the face of the Pakistan Peoples Party and the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz showing a renewed strength. The elections are being massively influenced by the Mirpuris living in Bradford, Birmingham, Nottingham and Southall areas of Britain who are currently running a bitter campaign. Some of them are objecting to the ideology of 'Kashmir banega Pakistan' and have started pages on Facebook to campaign against it.

This election is important for Pakistan in view of the recently-conducted local self-government poll in Jammu and Kashmir in which the people participated overwhelmingly.

The Rao-Bashir special discussion on J&K will help in a small way, at least, the ruling PPP. It will be able to boast during the election that it was able to hold an exclusive session on J&K with India.

In Pakistan, 'Azad Jammu and Kashmir' is dominating the headlines currently because President Asif Zardari and former prime minister Nawaz Sharief are hitting out at each other. When India is so keen "to talk peace and a constructive approach", the PPP and PML-N leaders on the battlefield of 'AJK' are talking about how to 'free' Kashmir from India. Sharief's party is trying to make inroads into AJK where the PPP has stronger roots. Due to his renewed push in the region, the elections are expected to produce a hung assembly.

On his five-day tour of POK, Sharief said that Kashmir was part of his life. He also warned India that it could not occupy Jammu and Kashmir any longer by force and it would have to resolve the issue by holding a plebiscite as proposed by the United Nations under its resolutions.

No doubt, his diatribe is to engage the voters in the time of election and is part of the rhetoric necessary to create noise during the election.

Since Pakistan is in the middle of an intense regional and internal issue, the Rao-Bashir talks are not the "major attraction" in Islamabad.

President Barack Obama's reassertion of America's Afghan policy and the Pakistan army's investigation into some senior officers' links with terrorist outfits are watched with concern in Islamabad.

Meanwhile, on the eve of the Rao-Bashir talks, as a gesture of goodwill India is likely to release the 78-year-old Dr Khaleel Chisti who has been languishing in jail in Ajmer, Rajasthan, as an undertrial for 19 years.

Also, the Indian sailors who were captives of Somalian pirates have been released and reached Karachi. Due to co-operation from both sides, the Indian sailors are expected to have a smooth immigration process.

Sheela Bhatt in Islamabad