20 March 2016, ISLAMABAD: Key civil society leaders and opinion makers from India and Pakistan, including parliamentarians, former diplomats, former military officers and policy experts met in Bangkok for the 18th round of the Chaophraya Dialogue from 18 to 20 March 2016, organised by the Jinnah Institute (JI) and the Australia India Institute (AII).
Pakistani delegates at the 18th Dialogue, which discussed and reviewed the state of bilateral relations in the aftermath of the terrorist attack on Pathankot Airbase, were led by Jinnah Institute President Senator Sherry Rehman along with Australia India Institute (AII) Director Amitabh Mattoo. In addition to prospects for bilateral relations, special focus was given to recent tensions in Jammu & Kashmir, the challenge of violent extremism on either side of the border, the ongoing conflict in Afghanistan, prospects for visa liberalisation and regional connectivity, as well as recommendations from two specially designated Task Forces on climate change adaptation and developing alternative histories and narratives that could positively impact public discourse.
Over the course of the two-day dialogue, participants welcomed the mature and constructive response of the governments of India and Pakistan to the Pathankot terrorist attack, and expressed the hope that the recent interaction between Pakistani Advisor to the PM on Foreign Affairs Sartaj Aziz and Indian EAM Sushma Swaraj in Pokhara, Nepal would lead to a revival of the dialogue process. They also noted that the forthcoming Nuclear Security Summit (NSS) in Washington D.C this month would offer another window of opportunity for the two Prime Ministers to recommit themselves to a sustainable roadmap for Indo-Pak engagement in 2016. On the issue of terrorism, delegates welcomed the fact that the governments in Islamabad and New Delhi were increasingly constructive in their engagement aimed at finding joint solutions to the issue of terrorism in South Asia. On Afghanistan, delegates lauded the efforts of the Afghan government to combat extremist militancy, but concurrently expressed grave concern at the strength and stability of the National Unity Government in Kabul, which continued to face off a violent insurgency and an uncertain future. Participants welcomed the signing of the TAPI and CASA-1000 projects, and suggested that India and Pakistan consider the possibility of discussions on Afghanistan as part of their bilateral discussions.
In a special session held on regional connectivity, participants urged the governments of both countries to implement previously negotiated roadmaps on visa liberalisation and tourism, and to develop a database of pre cleared, pre verified citizens for ease of visa issuance and travel across borders. In their deliberations, participants noted that flight options between Pakistan and India were often indirect and costly, and that travel between the two countries could take up to 14 hours, despite 60,000 citizens travelling annually each year.
Two specially designated Task Forces on Climate Change and Histories and Alternative Narratives also presented their findings during the conference. On climate change, panelists urged both governments to include climate change in their bilateral agenda, particularly on the issues of surface and groundwater; agriculture and food security; glacial melt and the protection and preservation of natural habitats. The Task Force on Histories and Alternative Narratives, meanwhile, called for curricula reform and student exchanges, that could in turn foster a better understanding of national identities and citizenries in both countries.
The Chaophraya Dialogue is the longest consistently running Indo-Pak Track-II jointly administered by the Jinnah Institute (JI) and Australia India Institute (AII) to encourage informed policy dialogue on Indo-Pak relations. The process is now in its eighth year and has so far led to 18 rounds of dialogue.
The Pakistani delegation was led by Senator Sherry Rehman, and included Amb. Aziz Ahmad Khan, former Foreign Secretaries Amb. Najmuddin Shaikh and Amb. Riaz Mohammad Khan, Amb. Shafqat Kakakhel, Shafqat Mahmood, Naveed Qamar, Lt. Gen. Talat Masood, AVM Shahzad Chaudhry, Professor Salima Hashmi, Mosharraf Zaidi, Zahid Hussain, Ali Dayan Hasan, Sehar Tariq, Rafay Alam, Yaqoob Bangash, Fahd Humayun, Sauleha Kamal and Mehmoona Bashar.
Indian participants were led by Prof. Amitabh Mattoo, and included Baijayant ‘Jay’ Panda, Amb. G. Parthasarthy, Amb. Vivek Katju, Ashok Malik, Siddharth Varadarajan, Lt. Gen. Ata Hasnain, Prof. C.Rajamohan, Aarti Tikoo, Dr. Happymon Jacob, Dr. Gulshan Sachdeva, Prof. Shakil Romshoo, Dr. Mohan Guruswamy, Prof. Meenakshi Gopinath, Shoma Chaudhury and Dr. Mallika Joseph.
At the end of the two-and-a-half day dialogue, participants arrived at the following joint communiqué:
They noted with satisfaction the recent meeting between the two Prime Ministers in Lahore, and expressed the hope that this would lead to revival of a robust bilateral relationship. The forthcoming Nuclear Security Summit in Washington D.C. provides another opportunity for the two Prime Ministers to meet again.
The recent meeting between the Indian External Affairs Minister and the Pakistani Advisor to the Prime Minister on Foreign Affairs in Nepal is also a welcome step towards regular interaction between the two countries.
The forthcoming SAARC Summit in Pakistan should be used as an important platform for the leadership of the two countries to look at ways and means to give impetus to the bilateral dialogue process.
Jammu & Kashmir
They recalled that discussions had taken place in recent years to agree on a framework to resolve the issue of Jammu and Kashmir, and urged that this process be taken forward.
They stressed the need to devise procedures to facilitate transportation, trade, travel and tourism across the LoC. This had to be accompanied by the development of infrastructure, banking facilities and communication to promote such cooperation.
They recognised that the provision of such facilities across the LoC would create an atmosphere for peace, progress and prosperity for the people of Jammu and Kashmir.
They noted the mature and constructive response of the governments of India and Pakistan to the Pathankot terrorist attack of 02/01/16;
They welcomed the First Information Report (FIR) filed in Pakistan, the detention of some of those believed to be responsible, the formation of the Joint Investigation Team (JIT) in Pakistan, and the announcement that the team will be arriving in India on 27/03/16;
They urged both governments to facilitate the successful process of investigation and trial;
They hoped that both sides could build on the positive momentum witnessed post-Pathankot, and continue to cooperate to counter the common threat posed by terrorism;
They welcomed the fact that the two National Security Advisors (NSAs) were actively engaged with each other on the issue of terrorism, and hoped that this could translate into tangible intelligence sharing in the future;
They took note of the challenges that violent extremism presents on both sides of the border and urged the two governments to find ways of tackling this menace.
They reiterated their strong support for peace and stability in Afghanistan, and expressed their support for reconciliation efforts in this regard. They urged their governments to independently and jointly promote these shared objectives;
They urged support from regional and international actors to strengthen the National Unity Government and enhance the level of economic assistance provided to Afghanistan;
They underscored the importance of economic development in Afghanistan, and the role Afghanistan can play as a hub for trade, energy and communication corridors between Central and South Asia. In this context they welcomed the signing of the TAPI and CASA-1000 projects.
They suggested that India and Pakistan consider the possibility of discussions on Afghanistan as part of their bilateral discussions;
They lauded the efforts of the Afghan government to combat extremist militancy in the country;
They underlined the need for both countries to jointly address the problem of drug production and trafficking originating from Afghanistan, which has had an alarming effect on youth in the region.
Phones, Flights & Connectivity
They noted with concern that although there is dramatic connectivity unfolding across the globe South Asia remains one of the least connected regions in the world.
They recognised that both governments have already negotiated roadmaps on trade, visa liberalisation and connectivity between the two countries.
They urged both governments to respond to the popular aspirations of the people on trade and increased connectivity, bilaterally and regionally, and consider taking the following steps:
a. Facilitate private sector to private sector contacts;
b. Implement previously negotiated roadmaps on Visa liberalisation and tourism;
c. Additionally, develop a database of pre cleared, pre verified citizens for ease of visa issuance and travel across borders;
d. Create a roster of authorised travel agents that can facilitate religious tourism;
e. Establish bilateral single-point immigration and customs facilities at border crossings;
f. Urge international airlines to increase direct flight traffic.
They recommended facilitation of student exchange programs between centers of learning on both sides. They specifically suggested the following:
g. Establish scholarship programs for students in institutions of higher learning.
h. Give access to existing long-distance education programs and develop online education platforms.
They emphasised the importance of leveraging new technologies to establish greater people to people contact. They specifically suggested the following:
i. Media practitioners on both sides of the border should collaborate to set up a jointly run South Asia news and opinion portal.
j. Use social media to connect civil society groups to jointly campaign for common issues such as gender issues.
They urged both governments to include climate change in their bilateral discussions.
They urged both sides to enter into cooperation and collaboration to undertake scientifically credible joint studies on common climate change concerns.
They recommended that key water issues be addressed, namely surface and groundwater; agriculture and food security; cryosphere; the water-energy nexus; and protection and preservation of the habitat of species of wildlife, especially the snow leopard.
They called for improvements in the network of observatory stations on hydrology, metrology and groundwater to develop a mechanism for timely sharing of data among the stakeholders.
They urged both countries to strengthen the effective implementation of SAARC commitments on climate change, especially the decisions taken in the 16th SAARC summit in Thimpu.