ISLAMABAD - Adviser to Prime Minister on National Security & Foreign Affairs, Sartaj Aziz, on Thursday hosted a delegation of Indian Parliamentarians at lunch at the Foreign Office. The 13-member delegation, representing 11 Indian political parties, is currently in Pakistan for the 5th round of the Pakistan-India Parliamentarians Dialogue arranged by the Pakistan Institute for Legislative Development and Transparency (PILDAT).

In his opening remarks, Sartaj underscored the importance of a dialogue at all levels between Pakistan and India, particularly at the level of Parliamentarians.

Highlighting the vision of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif to develop better relations with India, the Adviser said that durable peace was essential for the stability of the region, which was only possible through a sustainable dialogue process. He added that the Pakistan-India peace process should not be allowed to become a victim of domestic politics as that would not augur well for future relations.

He also expressed the hope that the expected meeting of the two Prime Ministers in New York on the sidelines of the UNGA would give impetus to the peace process.

Leader of the Indian delegation, Mani Shankar Aiyer, in his remarks said that they were in Pakistan on a goodwill mission. Agreeing with the Adviser to PM, he stated that both countries wanted peace and efforts would continue in that direction. He added that there was a need on both sides to develop a better understanding, clear misperceptions and work together to resolve issues that would bring about stability in the region. The participating parliamentarians from both sides also shared their thoughts acknowledging goodwill at the people-to-people level that needed to be utilized in supplementing the dialogue process.

Earlier, Chairman Senate Syed Nayar Hussain Bukhari inaugurated the two-day parliamentary dialogue.

Chairman, Senate Defence Committee, Senator Mushahid Hussain, who also addressed the participants, called for cooperation between India and Pakistan to “create new regionalism.”

“Today, a greater South Asia is emerging as a new geo-economic entity which is not limited to SAARC countries but includes China, Myanmar, Iran and Afghanistan,” said Mushahid. “This New Regionalism should be knit together by cooperation in economy and energy, railway, roads and pipelines.”

The chairman Defence Committee pointed out that the most important regional challenge is the upcoming US withdrawal from Afghanistan in 2014 and which would have spill over impact on the region. He stated that it is crucial that India and Pakistan should work together to make bold decisions which may be unpopular yet are necessary.

“In future, we should not repeat the mistakes of the past by carrying out proxy wars and revival of a cold war mindset that is detrimental to all regional players.” He warned that a new Cold war in the region would be destabilizing for regional cooperation.

He endorsed the sentiments of Shankar Aiyer, member Indian Congress that the parliamentarians and common people on both sides should work together to create an atmosphere of goodwill and dialogue. He reiterated that the dialogue process should be fostered by the parliamentarians, political leaders and Media; a task that is beyond the capabilities of bureaucrats who are trapped in their traditional and outmoded mindset. “It is important to note here that India bashing has not been a factor in Pakistan in the last six elections since 1990 which just shows how politically aware are the people of Pakistan”.

He laughingly added, “Anti-Indianism, according to different survey results, has been replaced by anti-Americanism.”

He extended full support, on the behalf of the Senate Defence Committee, in cooperation on any possible dialogue with its Indian counterparts, similar to the two dialogues conducted by the committee in Afghanistan and China this year.

He argued that peace in indivisible and cannot be compartmentalized; hence, peaceful and just settlement of the Kashmir dispute would be a major plus for peace.

Meanwhile, Chairman Senate Syed Nayyer Hussain Bokhari on Thursday while addressing the inaugural session of the 5th round of dialogue between parliamentarians of Pakistan and India expressed optimism that dialogue process between MPs of the two sides will herald a new dawn of promising improvement in bilateral relations, besides strengthening inter-parliamentary and people-to-people relations for the common good of the people of India and Pakistan.

He observed that MPs could better discuss critical issues of concern between Pakistan and India and this parliamentary diplomacy could facilitate an exchange of views and perceptions in a candid and frank manner in which only parliamentarians could talk to one another. The Chairman Senate emphasised that much more goals to be achieved in fulfilling the promise of peace and good neighbourly relations between Pakistan and India.

Bokhari said that public representatives had to build an atmosphere of trust in which the two countries could move forward. He remarked that good neighbourly relations between India and Pakistan were in the interest of the countries as well as for peace, harmony, stability and development in the region.

“The destiny of our people is linked to each other and therefore, we must adopt effective ways of cooperation to the benefit of the peoples of the two countries,” the chairman added.

At the outset, the chairman extended a warm welcome to Indian parliamentarians and said that the channels for dialogue should always remain open as they help normalise relations between the two neighbourly countries. He also appreciated PILDAT (Pakistan Institute of Legislative Development and Transparency) for providing such an opportunities where by people form both sides can set together and deliberate on issues of mutual significance.

Senators Mushahid Hussain Sayed, Maulana Abdul Ghafoor Haideri, Afrasiab Khattak, Nasreen Jalil and other members of the Parliament also highlighted the importance of dialogue process.

Leader of the Indian delegation Mani Shankar Aiyar, former union minister and member of Indian Rajya Sabha, observed that delegation was happy to visit Pakistan and MPs could play a vital role in improving the relations. He termed the dialogue process a very positive initiative and called for more cooperation and people to people contacts to move forward.

Earlier, President PILDAT Ahmed Bilal Mehboob gave a brief overview of the four rounds of dialogue. He said that dialogue would continue for two days (September 19 to 20) in which matters of mutual concern would be discussed.