India-Pak ties: Young citizens discuss way forward

Greater Kashmir

More people-to-people exchanges, and talks, both formal and informal, are the way forward for an end to the bilateral tensions hobbling the India-Pakistan relations, members of a group from India that attended a Track-II dialogue in Islamabad earlier this month, have said.

Six members from India, including civil society activists, journalists and members of policy institutes, attended the ‘India-Pakistan Track-II Bilateral Dialogue’ held in Islamabad on July 12-13. It was the first such initiative after the Pulwama attack that soured relations between the two neighbours.

“After the Pulwama attack and the tensions, it was important to initiate a dialogue, especially among civil society. It was more symbolic in that sense. Measures to facilitate more people to people contact, especially medical tourism, having an easier visa regime, the trade relations – that was basically what was talked about,” Devika Mittal, India convenor of Aaghaz-e-Dosti that works for peace between the two nations, told IANS.

Though there was no official level representation from India at the event, hosted by the Islamabad-based Regional Peace Institute (RPI), Indian High Commissioner Ajay Bisaria did host the Indian participants for lunch. The event was supported by the United States Institute for Peace (USIP). The conference discussed “the areas in which India and Pakistan can mutually benefit and can connect”, said Mittal

“It discussed trade, the need for more cultural exchanges, and exchanges in knowledge, and in media as well. It was more focussed on knowledge sharing,” she added. A second such dialogue is being planned in Delhi in September, though dates have not been decided yet.

There was “no discordant note” during the event. “It was pretty smooth, there were no issues,” she added.

Dr Dhananjay Tripathi, Senior Assistant Professor, Department of International Relations, South Asian University, another participant from India, said that at the end of the Track II dialogue the two sides “decided that both sides should continue with talks, formal and informal – both”. Besides the six from India, there were 13 participants from Pakistan, “all young people and mid-career”.

“Medical tourism came up for discussion, and that visas should be made easy. The issue of Pakistan’s closed air space also came up, though now it has been opened up,” Tripathi told IANS. “The visa process from both sides has to be liberalised, connectivity and trade, which is right now very bad, were some of the points that were discussed and highlighted. That people-to-people relationship should continue and talks, both formal and informal, should continue at different times,” he added.

He expressed hope that the September conference should be held as planned.

Raoof Hasan, founder of the Regional Peace Institute, was quoted as saying: “Track-II diplomacy is the first step to improve relations between the governments of both the countries.” He said that the main objective of the talks was to bring the youth of the two countries towards peace.

Pakistan’s Parliamentary Secretary for Foreign Affairs Andleeb Abbas, addressed the talk on the second and final day. She stressed on greater people to people contacts to normalise the bilateral relationship.

Abbas said the 770 million youths on both sides of the border are a “ray of hope” and by bringing them together a paradigm shift can be brought in the bilateral relationship of the two countries.

A press release issued after the two-day talks “underlined the need for communication to remain open even in times of crises. The conference provided a candid platform for exchange of ideas to cultivate an environment of peace in both the countries.”

It said that “Forums like these are essential to pave the way for deeper understanding between the two countries and must be encouraged.” The conference was held under the theme of ‘Beyond Politics and Polemics- New Beginning on a Difficult Trail’. “There is a strong feeling that enhanced connectivity between the two countries will create corridors of peace…. They look forward to the second round to be held in Delhi with the hope that communication channels between civil societies always remain open regardless of the political climate,” it said.  IANS