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Envoy talks about surviving 'shocks' in Indo-Pak ties

By Aziz Haniffa
April 12, 2013 10:22 IST
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Pakistan’s Ambassador to the United States Sherry Rehman believes trade and people-to-people interactions between India and Pakistan can contain the fall-out of “flare-ups” like the recent killing and beheading of two Indian soldiers near the Line of Control in Kashmir.
She made the comment in the question and answer session that followed her remarks on Rebuilding the US-Pakistan partnership at the Atlantic Council in Washington DC.

When asked how the US could encourage endeavours like businesspeople in Mumbai and Karachi seeking to trade with one another, Rehman said, “Business leadership in both our countries -- in India and Pakistan -- has been long endeavouring to build bridges of trade and business opportunities together.”
“But it is not just the business community,” she said, and noted, “I would say even the health practitioner community, the medical community, also schools… and there has been a great cultural outreach the minute we relaxed the visa requirements.”
Rehman said, “The recent flare-ups on the Line of Control with Kashmir, the index of a strong relationship, of a dialogue, of a commitment to peace, really is how a bilateral relationship survives shocks like that.”
She said she was “happy to say that we are trying our best to move forward in maintaining dialogue in many areas and building on gains, and there has been a great push for trade from both sides and that’s something really that is driven by people, by the chambers of commerce in many cities, not just Mumbai and Karachi.”
Rehman, 52, added, “I have to say, at least in my generation, there is still a huge wealth of nostalgia that romanticises each other’s birth places because there has been such a huge cross-migration.”
Rehman, who has always supported minority rights in Pakistan, was asked by a member of the World Hindu Council about Pakistan steadily losing its minority population in the last six decades.

When queried on whether she would fight for the protection and safety of these minority groups, Rehman said she would do so irrespective of the pressure from the United States and the international community.
Rehman is on the hit list of various militant and jihadi groups in Pakistan for strongly opposing the blasphemy laws in the country. According to some sources, she was posted in Washington as an envoy for her own safety.

She said, “This is a very important question and this is not something we would do to assuage other people.”
“The global community in important, what they think is important. We live not in an isolated island, but this is important to all democracies, certainly to my government, and I believe certainly that protection of minorities must be safeguarded as a constitutional right,” she said.
Rehman pointed out, “It is already safeguarded as a constitutional right, but we have to go further than that -- we have to build in mechanisms for inclusion and we should even be looking at affirmative action.”
She said, “We have already started on that path by bringing in special seats for the minorities in our Senate as well as the National Assembly. And, each time, we go through an election cycle, we are bringing in…and also political parties can do this without the government telling them -- we do that as a matter of policy.”
Rehman noted, “I am a member of the Pakistan People’s Party as you know, but I represent the whole of Pakistan. Most mainstream parties are united in seeking to include, protect and empower the minorities, and as we go into the next election, this is going to be one of the points that will be hotly debated in our free media.”

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Aziz Haniffa in Washington, DC