Indo-Pakistan bickering returns but Gilani is optimistic

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ISLAMABAD – Just as Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani told the upper house of the parliament that his interaction with the Indian leadership was a step forward in opening up a new chapter of good neighbourly relations between the two countries, Pakistan and India went back to bickering on Friday with the former protesting against the detention of its High Commission’s driver in Chandigarh, and the Indian High Commission here taking up issue of the arrest of one of its staff members, who was released only after intervention from India’s External Affairs Secretary Nirupama Rao.
Gilani told the Senate all issues, including the core issue of Kashmir, were part of the discussions in his recent visit to India. He said both the countries had agreed to resolve all the outstanding issues through dialogue and give their nations peace and prosperity. He said there was consensus on both sides that the two countries had the ability and will to resolve their problems.
The issues of inflation, poverty, hunger, disease and unemployment were also discussed in the talks, the PM added. Gilani acknowledged the good performance of the Pakistan National Cricket Team in the World Cup and added that the semi-final match provided a very useful opportunity to the leadership of Pakistan and India to get together and discuss bilateral relations.
On the other hand, the Foreign Ministry said that a driver of the Pakistan High Commission in New Delhi was detained for unknown reasons earlier this week. According to Indian media reports, Indian officials confirmed that the driver was briefly detained and handed over to the Pakistan High Commission. A media report from New Delhi had claimed earlier that on Wednesday evening a Pakistani High Commission driver was seen near the Chandigarh cantonment area and when confronted, he tried to escape.
It quoted sources as saying that in the process, the driver sustained some bruises on his knee and back. He was questioned and thereafter released. Before being released, a medical check-up was conducted which “showed him in good health”. An official of the Indian High Commission in Islamabad also went missing on Thursday and according to diplomatic sources, he was detained by Pakistani authorities for allegedly being involved in “suspicious activities”.
The Indian official was set free after New Delhi took up the matter with Islamabad with Rao making a phone call to Foreign Secretary Salman Bashir to resolve the issue. “The two states resolved the issue amicably and hence any adverse impact on the recently resumed peace process has been averted,” a source said. Gilani also told the Senate that Afghan President Hamid Karzai had realised for the first time that Pakistan and Afghanistan had suffered at the hands of a common enemy.
He urged the Afghanistan government to join ranks with Pakistan to fight the enemy together. He said Pakistan wanted to work for peace and the country should be considered a part of the solution and not part of the problem. Replying to concerns raised by senators pertaining to deteriorating law and order in Balochistan, the prime minister said that the government had taken a number of measures to remove the sense of deprivation prevalent amongst the people of Balochistan.
He said the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP)-led government had initiated a dialogue with the leadership of Balochistan, apart from introducing the “Aghaz-e-Haqooq-e-Balochistan Package” aimed at prosperity in the province. Gilani said the inter-provincial coordination minister had been asked to ensure the implementation of the Balochistan package in letter and spirit. The PM said that a judicial commission was already working on the issue of missing people and told Law Minister Babar Awan to brief the house on the commission’s report.
The premier condemned the attempts at the life of Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam-Fazl chief Fazlur Rehman and said it was a cowardly act. He underlined the need for a unanimous strategy to stop terrorism. In response to the senators’ concern regarding the increase in petroleum prices, the PM told the finance minister to meet the political leadership of the country to devise a strategy to ease the suffering of the people.
Gilani admitted that the increase in fuel prices was a matter of concern for the people of Pakistan and hoped the government, in consultation with the political leadership, would find a way to provide relief to the public. He told the house that the government had already paid Rs 35 billion subsidy on petroleum products.
“Our tax on petroleum products is amongst the lowest in the world,” he said. The prices of fuel products in the international market, he said, were going up and the government had nothing to do with the rising petroleum prices.