NEW DELHI — Continued estrangement with Pakistan is a hurdle to regional peace and the new comprehensive bilateral dialogue process is expected to usher in an era of peace and development, Indian External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj said on Monday. Despite the decision made on December 9 to launch the fresh dialogue, there is a “sharp awareness” in New Delhi that obstacles to the growth of ties, especially terrorism, will have to be directly addressed, she said.
Making a statement in the Rajya Sabha on her visit to Islamabad last week and recent developments in bilateral ties, Swaraj said Prime Minister Narendra Modi had discussed the issue of “again re-engaging with each other” with his Pakistani counterpart Mian Muhammad Nawaz Sharif on the margins of the climate change conference in Paris.
“The underlying sentiment, on which I am confident that this House concurs fully, was that the continued estrangement of two neighbours was a hurdle to the realisation of our shared vision of a peaceful and prosperous region,” she said.
“The new dialogue, we sincerely hope, marks a new beginning also for peace and development in the whole region,” she added.After Modi and Nawaz Sharif met in Paris on November 30, the two national security advisers held talks in Bangkok on December 6 that focussed on peace and security, terrorism, tranquillity along the Line of Control and “Jammu and Kashmir, the state which has been most directly impacted by terrorism and the violation of the LOC”, Swaraj said.
These “constructive talks” paved the way for Swaraj’s visit to Islamabad to attend the Heart of Asia meet on Afghanistan. Swaraj said that in her talks with Nawaz Sharif and his foreign affairs adviser Sartaj Aziz, the “two sides condemned terrorism and resolved to cooperate to eliminate this menace”.
“There we dwelt on the need for Pakistan to expedite the Mumbai terrorist attacks trial. The Indian side was assured of the steps being taken to expedite its early conclusion.”Swaraj’s statement was largely inaudible because the opposition repeatedly called for a stop to proceedings in the House. She read out the statement as several opposition MPs entered the well and shouted slogans.
The comprehensive bilateral dialogue is aimed at “removing hurdles in the path of a constructive engagement by addressing issues of concern”, she said. It also aims at “exploring and establishing cooperative ties and initiatives on trade and connectivity, people-to-people exchanges and humanitarian issues will contribute to the welfare of the region and promote mutual trust,” she added.
The foreign secretaries will work out the schedule and modalities for the dialogue, she said. “I would like to assure the House that this government accords the highest priority to the country’s security. In order to meet any threats in this regard, the government will take all steps, including through diplomatic channels,” she said.
India, she said, is “committed to building an environment of peaceful and cooperative relations with all our neighbours, including Pakistan, so that the efforts for peace and development in South Asia…are taken further forward.”
She said the Heart of Asia process too was devoted to security and connectivity and the conference provided an important opportunity for political consultations and regional cooperation to reiterate India’s commitment to Afghanistan’s stability and development.
“During the Ufa meeting, (Modi) was extended an invitation by Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif to visit Islamabad for attending the Saarc Summit in 2016,” she said, without saying if Modi will visit Pakistan.
Defending her decision to speak flawless Urdu during her recent Pakistan visit, Swaraj said there was nothing wrong in speaking Urdu as it is one of the Indian languages.“People criticise for strange reasons, (like) why was the colour of your saree green? Why did you speak in Urdu?” the Indian minister said.
“Some people say why did I speak in Urdu there. What shouldn’t I speak? Urdu is a language of my nation as well,” she added.Even Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif had reportedly praised Swaraj’s Urdu during their 40-minute conversation and said, “Your (Swaraj’s) Urdu is better than mine.”