Apr 6, 2010

Engaging in peace talks

The first state visit to S. Arabia by an Indian leader in almost 30 years saw Manmohan Singh discuss terrorism and peace

By Waqar Gillani

After the ‘encouraging’ role of the US to press Pakistan and India to break the stalemate after the Mumbai attacks, Saudi Arabia has also emerged as an important player in an effort to help nuclear neighbours start a positive dialogue.

The Mumbai attacks allegedly masterminded and executed with the help of terrorists operating from Pakistani soil and belonging to defunct Lashkar-e-Tayyba badly affected the composite dialogue between Pakistan and India. Following different top level meetings between the two countries in 2009, meetings between the Pakistani and Indian foreign secretaries held at the end of February ended without achieving considerable results, with New Delhi continuing to publicly voice concern over Islamabad’s inaction against perpetrators of the Mumbai attacks.

The effort to initiate a positive dialogue between the two countries surfaced after Indian premier Manmohan Singh visited Saudi Arabia. This was almost after 30 years that any Indian premier paid visit to Saudi Arabia and hold talks on the issues of trade, regional security, and terrorism. Indian premier Singh visited Saudi Arabia in the beginning of March and the talks, reportedly, also led to the conclusion that Saudi Arabia can also play an important role in bridging the Pakistan-India gap after Mumbai attacks in 2008. Shashi Tharoor, Indian state minister for foreign affairs in his statement while visiting Saudi Arabia as part of the Manmohan delegation, also hinted at the suggestion in a statement that Saudi Arabia can mediate between Pakistan and India. The statement, however, became controversial as it became an issue in India but the Indian premier defended the situation in the parliament. He did not admit the Saudi role but said that India always wanted peaceful relations with Pakistan and there is no harm in dialogue with Islamabad at any stage.

The first state visit to Saudi Arabia by an Indian leader in almost 30 years saw Manmohan Singh discuss terrorism and peace with Pakistan, and trade with the Saudi King Abdullah. According to the on the record statement of Manmohan "We can walk the extra mile to open a new chapter in relations between our two countries."

"We seek cooperative relations with Pakistan. Our objective is a permanent peace because we recognise that we are bound together by a shared future. If there is cooperation between India and Pakistan, vast opportunities will open up for trade, travel, and development that will create prosperity in both countries and in South Asia as a whole," Singh reportedly said to the Saudi Consultative Council in Riyadh.

"Pakistan is a friendly country. Anytime one sees a dangerous trend in a friendly country, one is not only sorry but worried," Saudi Foreign Minister Saud al-Faisal told Indian journalists after meeting Singh.

Pakistani foreign minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi has also visited Riyadh on the invitation of his Saudi counterpart for taking him into confidence about the recent visit by the Indian prime minister to Saudi Arabia. "If a friend like Saudi Arabia comes forward for mediation between Pakistan and India, we will go ahead without hesitation," Qureshi has told media. The visit based on the invitation of the Saudi Foreign Minister, Saud-Al-Faisal, Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi left for Riyadh on April 2. During his stay in Saudi Arabia, the foreign Minister was scheduled to meet King Shah Abdullah Abdul Aziz, Saudi Foreign Minister Saud-Al-Faisal, and Saudi Intelligence Chief, Prince Muqrin bin Abdul Aziz. The Saudi foreign minister took his Pakistani counterpart into confidence about the recent visit by Manmohan Singh. Pakistani FM has also been briefed about the cooperation sought by India from Saudi Arabia to normalise the relations between Pakistan and India.

Interestingly, just before these visits, the statement by All Parties Hurriyat Conference (APHC) chairman Mirwaiz Umar Farooq has also suggested that China and Saudi Arabia could mediate to resolve the core issue of Kashmir. Speaking on the sidelines of a function hosted by the Pakistan High Commission to mark the Pakistan National Day at New Delhi on March 23, Farooq suggested that China and Saudi Arabia could mediate to resolve the issue.

Referring to the statement of Minister of State for External Affairs Shashi Tharoor, Farooq noted that he also had sought Saudi Arabia as an interlocutor in resolving the Kashmir dispute with Pakistan. "Saudi Arabia has very good relations with both the countries India and Pakistan. It is obvious that such a suggestion has come from Shashi Tharoor. Saudi Arabia can play a role in Kashmir. We welcome it," Farooq mentioned.

Mirwaiz Umar Farooq recently has also held talks with Saudi officials in Jeddah. His visit to Saudi Arabia came close on the heels of a visit by the Indian Prime Minister Singh.

"We feel that Saudi Arabia of course has a long and close relationship with Pakistan but that makes Saudi Arabia an even more valuable interlocutor for us," he was quoted by the Indian media as saying at the end of March. Farooq is also planning to send a delegation of Kashmiri leaders to Saudi Arabia within a month to hold talks with the Saudi officials.

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