| Pakistan high commissioner Aziz Ahmad Khan shakes hands with designated foreign secretary Shashank at the EU meet. (PTI)
New Delhi, Nov. 29: India’s largest trading partner, the European Union, said lingering tensions with Pakistan have become an obstacle to Delhi playing a bigger role in world politics.
Welcoming the ceasefire and other steps the neighbours have proposed to normalise relations, the EU has urged India and Pakistan to sort out their problems bilaterally and peacefully.
The EU stand indicates that there is widespread expectation that the current peace process would soon lead to resumption of dialogue.
Unlike the previous year when Denmark’s “pro-active” stand on Kashmir created much bad blood between the two sides, the tone of the EU this time was not one of hectoring but more of a suggestion from one friend to another.
“India is a giant, not only in terms of its growing economy but also in terms of the role it could play in world politics,” EU president Romano Prodi said. But he pointed out that “India’s lingering tension with Pakistan is one of the biggest obstacles to the role Delhi could play in strengthening regional cooperation and peace in the Asian continent”.
After wide-ranging talks with Indian leaders, Prodi said: “Our position is that we are simply pressing India and Pakistan to reach a peaceful agreement.”
But Delhi repeated that “there could be no negotiations till cross-border terrorism ends”.
The EU agreed with India that “there could be no justification whatsoever for terrorism” and it would support the fight against international terrorism “wherever it occurs and regardless of its motives”.
The two positions were made clear in the joint statement that India and the EU came out with after their annual summit in Delhi this afternoon.
That the summit was held despite a last-minute cancellation by Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, who holds the chair of the EU, because of illness demonstrates the maturity of the two sides and their confidence in each other.
Berlusconi’s decision not to come to Delhi either to attend the bilateral meeting with India or to be part of the summit with the EU troika had generated much speculation in the Italian media, which even suggested that it nearly created a “diplomatic incident” between the two countries.
But Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee put such speculation to rest by asserting today that though he “missed” the Italian Prime Minister, there was no reason to call off the summit as the EU was represented in full strength.
Apart from Prodi, EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana and EU commissioner for external relations Chris Patten were present. Italy was represented by its minister of state for external affairs Margherita Boniver, who conveyed Berlusconi’s apologies and said the Italian Prime Minister would like to come to India as soon as he could.
Two agreements, one for an EU-India trade and investment development programme and another on India- EU customs cooperation, were signed this afternoon.
Prodi said India and the EU were in the process of building a strategic partnership as their close cooperation extended not only to the economic sphere, but also to the political and cultural areas.
The two sides, staunch supporters of a multipolar world order, expressed their views and shared concerns on developments in Afghanistan and the continued violence in West Asia, and called for a greater role for the United Nations to bring peace and stability in Iraq.
The summit also stressed that a definite and early time frame was required to be given so that Iraqis could “determine their own political future and retain an effective control of their economic resources”.