NEW DELHI - It is becoming increasingly evident, after the foreign ministers
of India and Pakistan failed to make significant progress in just concluded
peace talks, that inroads to normalizing ties between both countries could only
be made by improving people-to-people contacts.
Lately that seems to be chalking up a better record of success than the diplomatic
While India's Foreign Minister Natwar Singh and his visiting Pakistani counterpart
Khursheed Mehmood Kasuri were effusive at their joint press conferences on Monday,
it was, however, clear that they had once again hit a roadblock on the Kashmir
"It is obvious that there has to be better people-to-people contact aimed
at building better understanding before so sensitive an issue as Kashmir can
be tackled," Nandini Oberoi, a member of the Women's Initiative for Peace in
South Asia (WIPSA) told IPS in an interview.
Oberoi, who teaches at a vocational school, said she felt that the solution
could lie in more open borders to facilitate such contacts, especially in view
of the fact that Indians traveling to Pakistan were greeted warmly by their
neighbors and vice versa.
"There is a lot of good will between the people of the two countries and this
could be built upon," she said.
"Both states [India and Pakistan] are lagging behind the peace movements,"
said Sherry Rehman, a visiting member of Pakistan's National Assembly and well-known
Karachi-based women's rights activist.
Rehman who has been coming to India regularly over the last two years said
she could perceive during the period a difference in attitude among the people
and felt that "entrenched positions have shifted."
Significantly for peace movements in both countries, this year's Ramon Magsaysay
Award for International Peace and Understanding will be shared by Laxminarayan
Ramdas, a former chief of India's navy, and leading Pakistan peace activist
and journalist Ibn Abdur Rehman.
The two have served as joint chairpersons of the Pakistan-India People's Forum
for Peace and Democracy (PIPFPD) that was launched in 1995, and the Magsaysay
citation said they were being honored for "reaching out across the hostile
border to nurture a citizen-based consensus for peace between Pakistan and India."
The Magsaysay Award is awarded to individuals and organizations in Asia. Conceived
by John D. Rockefeller III, the award was created to commemorate former Philippines'
president Ramon Magsaysay and to perpetuate his example of integrity in government
and pragmatic idealism within a democracy.
Commented the Indian Express newspaper in an editorial on Tuesday: "There
is an upsurge of hope for peace among the people in both countries. They are
looking for normal relations between India and Pakistan and a better life created
by the enhancement of political, economical and social opportunities."
The official composite dialogue process (CDP) is a diplomatic device for approaching
the difficult subject of Kashmir a piece of alpine territory which has
been disputed by the two countries ever since they were created by the 1947
partition, out of a larger British India, ahead of independence.
Wars between the neighbors in 1965 and 1971 failed to settle the Kashmir dispute.
Alarmingly both countries armed themselves with nuclear weapons in 1998 and
came to the brink of fighting yet another all-out war in 2002 before finally
settling down to the drawn-out composite dialogue process.
Apart from the two formal declared wars, the two countries routinely report
cases of firing and shelling across their long common border and the Line of
Control (LoC) that now separates the Indian and Pakistan controlled parts of
the former princely state of Jammu and Kashmir. The worst of these was the bloody
conflict at Kargil in 1999.
"If the dialogue continues and I feel it should move on, then I am sure
that, Inshallah [God willing], some way will be found to resolve it .
. . both sides have to show flexibility and compromise," Foreign Minister
Kasuri told pressmen after the tough two-day session.
Kasuri said Pakistan had not placed on the table any "formal proposal"
for a settlement of the Kashmir issue but said efforts were indeed underway
to improve people-to-people contacts across the Line of Control (LoC), which
separates the Indian and Pakistan controlled parts of the former princely state
of Jammu and Kashmir.
Foreign ministry officials here count that among the plus points of the present
is an agreement to discuss a "disengagement and redeployment" of troops in
Siachen, a high-altitude glacier on the northernmost point of the LoC and strategically
overlooking China's Karakorum highway that leads into Tibet.
The two sides also declared readiness to hold talks on a proposed bus link
between Srinagar the summer capital of Indian Kashmir (the winter one
is in the warmer city of Jammu) and Muzaffarabad, capital of Pakistan-controlled
Kashmir or Azad (free) Kashmir as part of measures to build confidence.
The best news to emerge from the talks are plans to move ahead with a long-pending
proposal to build a gas pipeline between Iran and India running through Pakistani
For the rest, analysts said it was significant that the two sides had come
this far so soon after being on the brink of war two years ago.
"As this was the first meeting after the resumption of the composite dialogue
between the two sides, its more important achievement was to get the two sides
to get to know each other better," said the Hindustan Times in an
editorial on Tuesday.
"There may not be any breakthrough yet, but as long as they are continuing
to talk things are fine . . . any talk is better than no talk at all,"