| Painter Suvaprasanna welcomes Pakistani high commissioner Aziz Ahmed Khan at a Bengal Initiative programme as Russi Mody looks on. Picture by: Pabitra Das
Calcutta, Dec. 9: Regular cultural exchanges, partnership in academic pursuits and enhanced economic cooperation — Pakistani high commissioner Aziz Ahmed Khan was handed a list of must-haves at his meeting with a mixed bunch of Calcutta’s elite.
For Khan, on a four-day trip to the city, it was the first opportunity to interact at an open forum and he instantly struck a chord with Calcuttans as he came down from the dais to mingle with the guests.
“We must start a serious, sustained and comprehensive dialogue,” said Khan after giving an account of recent initiatives by Pakistan for better relations. But the diplomat didn’t miss the opportunity to iterate that Kashmir is “the issue” between the countries, and blamed Delhi for its delayed response to Pakistan’s confidence building measures.
“What is the prospect of democracy in Pakistan'” asked Surendra Munshi of IIM Calcutta once the floor was open for an impromptu question-answer session. Questions flew thick and fast during the hour-long interaction on a host of issues ranging from Pakistan’s stand on terrorism to the arms race in the subcontinent.
“Free and fair general election with participation from all the political parties and then formation of a civilian government were enough indications of democracy,” observed Khan.
But he declined to accept that Assembly polls in Kashmir were free and fair as mentioned by industrialist G. K. Bhagat.
While the difference of opinion between the speaker and the audience with regard to Kashmir and terrorism was evident, the house was unanimous on cultural exchange, association in scientific endeavours and increased economic activity between the two countries.
“Economic cooperation between India and Pakistan is abysmally low and this must go up,” said Khan.
Earlier in the day, he announced that Pakistan would take part in the forthcoming Calcutta trade fair after his meeting with commerce and industries minister Nirupam Sen.