Pak Won't Raise J&K At Asean Forum
8 May 2004
The Asian Age
New Delhi: Pakistan has pledged it will not raise any bilateral issue, including Jammu and Kashmir, at the Asean Regional Forum once its membership in that body is approved. The announcement is seen as an attestation of the resolve to advance the peace process. India, in its commitment to improving ties with its neighbour, has decided to give up its traditional opposition to Pakistan's inclusion in the ARF. The development is significant as a great measure of flexibility has been evinced from both sides, showing that Indo-Pak ties are moving in the right direction. This is the first time that Pakistan has pledged it will not raise any bilateral issue, including that of Jammu and Kashmir at a multilateral forum. India, part of the 23-member ARF, a principal forum for security dialogue in the Asia-Pacific region, hitherto did not support the idea of Pakistan being admitted into the forum on 'technical' and strategic grounds. A meeting of senior ARF officials is to take place at Jogjakarta, Indonesia, on May 11 when the issue of the expansion of the membership of the ARF is likely to be decided. If the officials agree on lifting the moratorium on membership, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Timor-Leste will be considered for membership. Sources said that chief among New Delhi's concerns had been Pakistan's practice of raising bilateral issues, including Jammu and Kashmir, in multilateral fora. Against the backdrop of Pakistan's keen campaigning for ARF membership, these concerns had been conveyed to Indonesia, which currently heads the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, and Pakistan. Following this, New Delhi has recently received a confirmation of Pakistan's pledge that it will not raise bilateral issues in the ARF. Officials said Indonesian foreign minister Hassan Wirajuda conveyed Pakistan's assurance to external affairs minister Yashwant Sinha. This assurance has been conveyed to Indonesia, in the form of a letter. Pakistan also confirmed that it will promote the process of composite dialogue to resolve all outstanding issues. 'Given this assurance, which we welcome, India's position on lifting of the moratorium and inclusion of Pakistan is likely to be flexible in the forthcoming meeting of senior ARF officials. India is unlikely to oppose its (Pakistan's) membership,' an official said. Foreign secretary Shashank will lead the Indian delegation to the meeting. The approval of ARF officials will be the first step towards Pakistan gaining membership. A final decision on Pakistan's membership will be taken at the ARF ministerial meeting in July. The development can be seen as an indication of the level of political commitment on both sides to carry forward the peace process. 'It is also a positive signal of the improvement in our relations, and that the two countries are moving in the right direction,' the official said. Recent pronouncements by Pakistan Prime Minister Mir Zafarullah Khan Jamali suggest that the two neighbours now share a good understanding. Mentioning India would not oppose Pakistan's candidature since the two countries had good relations now, he said Pakistan's prospects of joining the ARF looked good. 'India was an obstacle, but not anymore, we are having (sic) good relations with India now,' he had told reporters. The ARF is a powerful regional security grouping that includes, besides the 10 member states of Asean, the US, Russia, India, EU, Canada, China, Australia, New Zealand, Japan, Republic of Korea and Mongolia.