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Joint Press Conference by External Affairs Minister of India and Foreign Minister of Pakistan (November 26, 2008)

November 26, 2008

Official Spokesperson (Shri Vishnu Prakash): A very good evening to all of you and welcome to the Joint Press Conference.

External Affairs Minister would be making an opening statement. Next, His Excellency the Foreign Minister of Pakistan would be making a statement. Sir, the floor is yours.

Minister of External Affairs (Shri Pranab Mukherjee): Thank you. Good evening, friends in the media.

I am glad to welcome you Excellency once again, my colleague the distinguished Foreign Minister of Pakistan Makhdoom Shah Mehmood Qureshi. Your last visit in June was unfortunately truncated and I am very glad that you have found time to visit India again to complete the programme drawn up during the earlier visit.

As you are aware, during his stay in India His Excellency Mr. Qureshi will be visiting Chandigarh, Jaipur and Ajmer. In fact, we travel to Chandigarh tomorrow to participate in a seminar on regional security and development. His Excellency Mr. Qureshi’s visit to Delhi at this time, however, is an opportunity in that it enabled us to review bilateral relations and also progress in the Fifth Round of the Composite Dialogue. As you are aware, some of the meetings of the Composite Dialogue have already been completed and the others are scheduled to take place in December and January. We expect this round to be a productive and fruitful process.

In our review today we noted the substantial achievements already have been made in the Fifth Round. To list some of them, the opening of cross LoC trade, the agreement in principle to open the Wagah-Attari route for all permissible items of trade, the opening of Kokhrapar-Munabao rail link for trade in cargo, discussion on modalities of the Kargil-Skardu link, etc. We had agreed also that there should be quick and effective steps to implement on the ground all the decisions that have been taken. Insofar as cross LoC trade is concerned, both Governments are aware that certain teething problems and bottlenecks had to be addressed and these will be attended in the near future.

His Excellency Mr. Qureshi and I also discussed the need for effective steps to address the menace of terrorism which threatens societal and state stability in our region. The institutions which we have set up within the Dialogue framework such as Home Secretary level talks and the Joint Anti Terror Mechanism have been meeting regularly. In fact the Union Home Secretary had a meeting yesterday in Islamabad with his Pakistan counterpart, and the Joint Anti Terror Mechanism had met in a special session to discuss the terrorist attack on our Embassy in Kabul a few weeks ago. We agreed that it is important that these institutions should show concrete results.

During our meeting the Pakistani Foreign Minister and I also agreed that India-Pakistan Joint Commission and its eight Technical Level Working Group should also complete their work for this year. As you are aware, the Joint Commission encompasses areas such as environment, education, communication, science and technology; and its meeting help in broad-basing our bilateral relationship.

Once again I take this opportunity to welcome His Excellency Makhdoom Shah Mehmood Qureshi and his distinguished delegation to India and wish him a present and productive stay in India.

Thank you.

Official Spokesperson: Thank you, Sir. Mr. Foreign Minister, Sir, the floor is yours.
Foreign Minister of Pakistan (Mr. Makhdoom Shah Mehmood Qureshi): Thank you Mr. Mukherjee, thank you for having me over, thank you for your hospitality towards me and my delegation. It is indeed a pleasure to be in Delhi again. Unfortunately last time when I was here I had to abort my trip for reasons known to you. I have come to pick the thread from where I left things.

I came with a positive agenda then and I have come with a positive agenda now. In one sentence, what I want is friendly relations with India, period. We spent six decades in hostility, acrimony. The region has suffered. People have suffered. We must add a new leaf, and we must give people of South Asia hope, we must provide leadership, and we must show them the way forward.

In Pakistan today you have a democratic government. And I expect the largest democracy in the world to be supportive to a democratic dispensation in Pakistan. The political environment of Pakistan today is very positive towards India. Not just the political parties in Government but the main opposition party is also positively inclined towards friendly relations and normalization towards India. I think we have this window of opportunity and we must avail and we must not let it pass us.

If the 21st century is going to be the century for the Asian subcontinent, we have to see, are we ready for that? And what sort of environment, what sort of enabling environment are we creating to take advantage of that opportunity? In my view, we have challenges and I am not underplaying the challenges we have. But I am confident that we can convert those challenges into opportunities, and let us do so.

I think the interaction that we have had today has been very constructive, very positive, and very forward looking. We have discussed a host of issues starting from trade and how we can enhance trade and how we mutually benefit from enhanced trade and how environment within Pakistan has changed vis-à-vis trade with India.

We have discussed liberalization of the visa regime and I pointed out the various statements made by the President of Pakistan and the Prime Minister of Pakistan. We also discussed how religious pilgrimage must be encouraged. There is a great demand for it and that would support, I would say, a great demand at the people’s level as well as promote better understanding amongst people, will promote inter-faith dialogue, will promote tolerance, and would also promote tourism.

I have also discussed with the Foreign Minister, prisoners, and the condition of prisoners on both sides, and what we can do to ameliorate their condition. We have had discussion on the cultural exchanges and what needs to be done on that score. We have both recognized that the cross LoC trade is a landmark and we should build on the initiative that was started on the 21st of October. There are operational difficulties and we need to address them and address them very quickly.

The issue of terrorism obviously, as the Foreign Minister has mentioned, came under discussion and we are aware of the challenge. And we also recognize that both of us are victims of terrorism. India and Pakistan have had a number of incidents that are serious and we have to jointly combat this menace and common threat.

We also recognize that the Joint Anti Terrorism Mechanism which is in place is an important institutional mechanism and the Interior Secretary-Home Secretary talks that have taken place in Islamabad today and yesterday were positive and meaningful progress has been made in them.

I did touch upon the water issue, the Chenab water issue. I have pleased and I am pretty sure that the Indian leadership is conscious of respecting the Indus Water Treaty in letter and spirit. I think a quick resolution is in order and we should see a mechanism is available and we should avail that mechanism to address this issue.

I have also highlighted the issue of Sir Creek and Siachen. I think we need to make progress and they are in my view solvable issues. And by making movement on these scores I think we can change the atmosphere that exists in South Asia for the betterment of our people. I feel our people deserve better.

Official Spokesperson: Thank you, Sir. Can I request you all once again to please put your phones on the silent mode. The Ministers will now take two questions from each side. When you ask a question please introduce yourself and your organization. Also indicate whom the question is addressed to. As a courtesy to our visitors the first question will go to the Pakistani side. May I request Ms Iman?
Question (Ms. Iman Hassan , Geo TV): My question is addressed to Indian Foreign Minister Mr. Pranab Mukherjee. This water issue has been raised many times before. Is India ready to address Pakistan’s concern now and also compensate for the lost water, that is 22,000 cubics which has of course affected our crops badly?
External Affairs Minister of India: This issue has been discussed. First of all I would like to clarify one point. Indus Water Treaty was signed sometime in early 1960s. And even at the highest of our conflict and divergence of views between our two countries we did never stop flow of water as per the agreement. Sometimes it happened and not only with Pakistan but with many countries who share transnational water courses, if availability of water at the discharging point is not adequate, both sides suffer. What has happened in the current case was (that) water was not available. Water Commissioners are meeting, technical experts are meeting to find out a mechanism through which by sharing the data and information no misunderstanding is being created. I can assure you whatever water would be available as per the agreement would be distributed and the agreement in letter and spirit will be adhered to. But, at the same time, water at the discharging point must be made available. Thank you.

Question (Ms Maya Mirchandani, NDTV): The question is for Mr. Qureshi. Sir, the Indian cricket team has expressed some reservations about coming to Pakistan under the current security climate on their tour. What is your reaction to that? Mr. Mukherjee, Sir, if I could ask you, the Thai Government has sent India a Note Verbale saying that the Indian Navy had sunk a Thai trawler in the Gulf of Aden. Does the Indian Government accept these claims and will you be offering any compensation?
Foreign Minister of Pakistan: Madam, the people of India and Pakistan love cricket. And what a thriller when Pakistan and India are competing in a cricket stadium! Let the people of the subcontinent enjoy the game. We welcome you to Pakistan. We will address all your security concerns. You will be our guests. We assure you of all the security that is required. We will address all issues that are raised by the experts. So, come to Pakistan. The people of Pakistan are keen to receive you and are keen to watch your team perform in Pakistan. And let me also point out, the security concern that has been raised right now there are Indian tennis players in Pakistan playing in Pakistan and they are secure and they are safe. There is also the India shooting team is right now in Pakistan and they are enjoying their stay in Pakistan. We were sorry to have missed the Indian hockey team coming to Pakistan because we were looking forward to a very healthy hockey tournament in Pakistan. So, you are welcome. And we assure of addressing all your concerns.

External Affairs Minister of India: So far as the question of action against Thai trawler is concerned, first of all I would like to express my deep condolence for the loss of lives of the crew. But at the same time it is to be kept in mind that the trawler was under the command of the pirates. As per international law and practice followed in every country in the high sea, if the pirates do not surrender and if the ship or vessel is sunk, it is perfectly within the right as for international law. But again I express my deep condolence for the loss of lives. Here the ship was under the control of the pirates and off late the capturing ship demanding compensation, putting the crew on board through immense suffering has become a regular practice in some parts of the sea lanes. Therefore, the international community will have to assert to take action against these pirates.

Question (Mr Fakhar ur Rehman, Aaj TV): My first question is addressed to His Excellency Mukherjee. Since your Pakistani counterpart has expressed that the trade should be enhanced at the benefit of mutuality, how does India intend to correct the balance which is heavily tilted towards India and of course on sustainable balance? The second is to both of you. You have identified many issues that you have reviewed and discussed but Kashmir was left. There have been reports that Bill Clinton is going to be appointed as special representative for the resolution of Kashmir issue. How do India and Pakistan see this move?
External Affairs Minister of India: So far as the question of expansion of trade is concerned, in fact trade is expanding. Currently the bilateral trade is at around two billion US dollar. With the opening of the new routes which I have identified, one specially dedicated rail link for cargo trade and Wagah-Attari road for the passengers and other type of commodities, we do hope that the volume of trade will further increase. In respect of the balance of trade, it is not possible for every country to have balance of trade but we should try to as far as possible reduce the trade gap. That has been the practice everywhere. And if we can enhance the volume of trade, and the hon’ble Minister of Pakistan has also explained in details when we were discussing we have exchanged our views that a number of items have been added. And perhaps now we are going to realize what was agreed while finalizing SAFTA in 2003-04 that instead of having a positive list there will be the concept of the negative list. That means there will be no items which can be tradable between India and Pakistan to a considerable extent that will improve the export from Pakistan to India. As and when it happens, definitely the trade imbalance will be reduced. So, we are working on that.

Foreign Minister of Pakistan: To your question vis-à-vis Jammu and Kashmir I want to assure, Sir, that it has not been forgotten and not been left. You know that it is an important segment in the Composite Dialogue. And as you will recall that the Fifth Round of the Composite Dialogue has commenced. So, when the segment of Jammu and Kashmir comes under discussion it will be discussed and taken up in a meaningful manner. Coming down to the point of trade, you must be aware of the fact, since you are from Pakistan, that in the new trade policy that is announced this year we have added 139 new items which were not on the positive list and now are tradable and have been put on the positive list. We have also identified a number of items which Pakistan can trade with India which will correct the trade distortion and the trade balance. I am also of the view that if India could look into a reduction of certain non-tariff barriers, then trade between the two countries can be more balanced and enhanced.
External Affairs Minister of India: I would just like to respond to that because I did not mention that was also addressed to me. So far as Jammu and Kashmir is concerned, it is essentially a bilateral issue between India and Pakistan which we have agreed, and on various forums starting from Shimla Agreement to Lahore Declaration that this issue is to be resolved through dialogue between our two countries. And this is also a part of the Composite Dialogue. Therefore, there is no question of having any intervention by any third party.

Official Spokesperson: Last question, Srinjoy. And kindly restrict yourself to one question.
Question (Mr Srinjoy Choudhary): A question for the Foreign Minister of Pakistan. Sir, can you give us something about the fate of Sarabjeet Singh? There seems to be some talk about his being released. And also, Sir, as far as cricket is concerned, question for both of you, if the tour does not come through, will Indo-Pak ties be affected?
Foreign Minister of Pakistan: Why be negative? I have come with positive foot forward. So, I do not want to be negative at all. Why should not the tour come through? It can come through. Hopefully, it will come through. Let us took at it positively. And we are willing to do whatever we can to make it possible.

On Sarabjeet Singh’s case, yes, we are cognizant of your concern and the family’s concern. As you know, Pakistan has taken steps to address that. And we are examining the case and, hopefully, something positive will come out of it.

External Affairs Minister of India: And I hope the cricket team also will go and they will play and people will enjoy. Thank you.
Foreign Minister of Pakistan: So, create a positive pitch, you see. We want to play! Give us a positive pitch. I have come to roll for the positive pitch. Thank you.

Official Spokesperson: Thank you. That draws the event to a close. Thank you very much.

(Concluded)

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