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The best CBM yet

India and Pakistan have taken their re-engagement another commendable step forward with the meeting between the two Foreign Secretaries. Considering the difficulties in relations since the Mumbai 2008 attacks, each official interaction must be seen as an important incremental step in the rebuilding of bilateral relations, to which there is no alternative. As Foreign Secretary Nirupama Rao rightly said, it is time that “a vocabulary of peace,” rather than an ideology of military conflict, determined the way the two countries view each other. These talks capped a series of meetings between officials held since March, following the pattern of the Composite Dialogue process but without calling it that. That these discussions were able to pick up threads abandoned after the Mumbai attacks, including those on relaxing the visa regime and concessions to improve bilateral trade, is encouraging. The Foreign Secretaries discussed the possibilities of more Kashmir-specific confidence-building measures, or CBMs, and the scope for improving those in existence now. Also taken up were CBMs to mitigate the nuclear shadow over the subcontinent and the excessive military build-up on both sides, as was the issue of terrorism. That both sides had to agree through a joint statement to the “cessation of hostile propaganda” is telling about how far this had gone and should be cause for introspection in the news media, which often provides a platform for such propaganda. But what was uplifting was the acknowledgment that “the people of the two countries are at the heart of the relationship.”

Last week, one Pakistani demonstrated that nothing is truer when it comes to India-Pakistan relations. Ansar Burney's act of mobilising funds to free not just the Pakistani sailors held by pirates on the m.v. Suez, but also the Indian ones, has provided exemplary substance to that phrase ‘people-to people contact.' The subsequent mid-sea scuffle between the Indian and Pakistani navies as the rescued ship was being escorted to Karachi only reiterated the truth that the peoples are more capable of civilised engagement than the two states. The human rights activist's decision to help the Indian hostages is all the more heart-warming, considering the hostility he faced from the Pakistani media the last time he assisted an Indian in March 2008, when his efforts led to the release of the death-row prisoner Kashmir Singh from a Pakistani jail after a 30-year-long incarceration. Worse was the shabby treatment meted out to him by India, which deported him from the New Delhi airport in June 2008 on the unexplained ground of “inadequate documentation.” Evidently, Mr. Burney carried no grudge about this. He has shown by deed that humanism is the best CBM.

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