Unofficial talks about official talks… and some mis-talks

Unofficial talks about official talks… and some mis-talks
Mani Shankar Aiyar and Javed Jabbar at the Sixth Parliamentarians Photo: PILDAT

A former Senator invited to participate as Adviser at the recent India-Pakistan Parliamentarians dialogue in India shares his observations, including the consensus on the indispensability of official talks
By Javed Jabbar

Twelve Parliamentarians of Pakistan and 27 Parliamentarians of India met for a day and a half of dialogue in New Delhi on December 11 and 12, 2014.

Javed Jabbar

Javed Jabbar

This was the first such interaction between elected legislators of both countries since the election of Prime Minister Modi following polls held in May 2014 that appear to represent a significant shift in political power at the central Indian Union level.

The discussion was the sixth in the series of such dialogues organised by the Pakistan Institute of Legislative Transparency and Development (PILDAT). The discussions were closed-door exchanges but a Joint Statement (reproduced here) represented a summary of the principal elements.

This unofficial bilateral parliamentarians’ forum was organised by PILDAT’s dedicated founder Ahmed Bilal Mehboob and hard-working Joint Director Aasiya Riaz and their team. In India, Rajya Sabha member Mani Shankar, indefatigable, fearless advocate for sustained dialogue with Pakistan, facilitated the process. Awais Leghari, Chairman of the National Assembly Standing Committee for Foreign Affairs and former Federal Minister for Information Technology, led the Pakistani legislators.

An unfortunate episode occurred by which two appointments for the Pakistani Parliamentarians to meet with the Speaker of the Indian Lok Sabha could not materialize. Along with certain candid comments made to media by some of the visiting parliamentarians about the perceptions in Pakistan regarding the new Indian government’s Pakistan policies, the missed-appointments matter resulted in the Indian news media, specially news TV channels, going hysterical and permitting some “analysts ” to spew venom against the visitors and their country.

To the best of one’s knowledge, not a single newspaper in India or news TV channel, cared to reproduce any substantive part of the Joint Statement, leave alone the entire text. Despite being unofficial, the Dialogue was held in the Parliament House Library, adjacent to the Parliament building itself — an indicator of the credibility attached to the process.

There was an additional indicator of acknowledgement of the importance of the Pakistani Parliamentarians’ presence. Mr Hamid Ansari, Vice President of the Republic of India, a widely respected scholar and former diplomat, former Vice Chancellor of Aligarh University, received the visitors at his official residence. He listened with interest to his guests and also presented the Indian perspective with polite, firm dignity.

The prestigious venue of the Dialogue had a disadvantage. With both the Upper and Lower Houses in session on the same days, and some heated proceedings warming winter temperatures, the Indian MPs were obliged to make periodic entrances/exits in the Dialogue to fulfill their duties inside respective Chambers. At times, the inter-action was fragmented, rather than continuous.

Nevertheless, as the text of the Joint Statement reveals, despite the participation of only three BJP MPs out of the 27 who came and went (a few did stay the course), there is a refreshing consensus on the indispensability of official talks resuming at some point soon. Let the words of the Joint Statement speak for themselves.

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