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Mainstream, VOL LII, No 49, November 29, 2014

Positive News from Kathmandu, Kashmir

Monday 1 December 2014, by SC


The 18th SAARC Summit concluded in Kathmandu, the capital of Nepal, on a positive note today. Its most significant outcome was that of the three agreements on rail, motor vehicles and power grid connectivity which Pakistan was blocking till date, the last one—that is, the energy pact—has been cleared: finally Islamabad has relented and allowed it to materialise.

This concrete achievement apart, the 18th SAARC Summit was marked by some other positive features. Mention must necessarily be made of PM Narendra Modi’s formal speech at the inaugural session of the Summit yesterday. As The Times of India explained, Modi

cited a new awakening across South Asia and signalled India’s willingness to walk in this direction by supporting cross-regional infrastructure, energy cooperation, easier business visas including a SAARC business traveller card, and the establishment of a SAARC reference laboratory for TB and HIV. He has also promised to make good on its gift of a SAARC satellite by 2016.

Yesterday was the sixth anniversary of the Mumbai terror attack. So perhaps the PM did not wish to interact with the Pakistan PM on that day. In his speech he did recall the incident but refrained from accusing any country.

Today, however, being a different day there was reason for all votaries of India-Pakistan harmony to smile. Both at the retreat and the concluding session, the leaders from India and Pakistan exuded warmth. At the closing plenary they cordially shook hands for 32 seconds while exchanging pleasantries. Even though no substantive bilateral talks on the sidelines of the Summit were scheduled to be held, there was a visible thaw in their relations which was a distinct departure from the rigid postures New Delhi and Islamabad had taken in the recent past. As India-Pakistan tensions cast a lengthening shadow on the SAARC’s functioning, this was openly welcomed by all the member-states too.

Yet another positive development is the high turnout of voters in the first phase of polling in J&K: 71 per cent people exercised their franchise on November 25.

The reasons for this high turnout, especially in the Kashmir Valley, are varied. One presumable reason, as spelt out by The Indian Express, is:

According to reports, many in the Valley attribute the turnout to the “BJP factor”—that is, the people may have voted to ensure that the seemingly ascendant party does not carve out a dominant position in the Assembly.

Whatever the reasons, this high turnout is, to use Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh’s words, a “positive sign of Indai’s democracy” and must be wholeheartedly acclaimed without equivocation.

These positive features, manifest in the latest developments, are unmistakably striking, to say the least. It is necessary to build on these in the coming days so as to strengthen the edifice of the cooperative understanding with our neighbours, notably Pakistan, and reinforce our democratic values that have lately come under attack from vested interests of all hues.

November 27 S.C.

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