India and Pakistan agreed today to increase cooperation in agricultural research and to broaden cultural exchanges, two small steps on the long road to easing the widespread mistrust and tensions that have characterized relations between the two neighbors since they gained independence nearly 38 years ago.
The signings, after a two-year lapse in meetings of the Indo-Pakistani joint commissioners, appeared to signal a positive turn in relations between the traditional enemies of South Asia. The joint commission was set up two years ago to promote trade and cultural links shattered by political disputes that erupted in war three times since the two countries achieved independence in 1947.
"There is a desire to move away from relations of conflict and tension to one of normalization, and possibly toward friendship and good neighborliness," said Pakistani Foreign Minister Sahabzada Yaqub Khan in an interview yesterday.
"It is a difficult road beset with many obstacles," he said. "But because the will seems to exist on both sides, every chance should be given to defuse and relieve tension."
Sounding the same tone, Indian Minister of State for External Affairs Khurshed Alam Khan said the agreements signed today "are important only as a means to an end -- the establishment of cordiality, cooperation, mutual trust and understanding . . . and of durable peace in our region." While this new spirit of cooperation showed up clearly in relatively noncontroversial areas, the two sides failed to reach an agreement to end trade barriers or to ease India's apprehensions over Pakistan's weapons purchases or nuclear program.
Yaqub Khan also attacked Indian complaints about his country's arms purchases from the United States as "unreasonable, unrealistic and exaggerated."
He accused India of buying $17 billion in arms from the Soviet Union and western suppliers during the past four years while raising loud complaints over Pakistan's purchases from the United States, which were about one-tenth as large.
Yaqub Khan also insisted that Indo-Pakistani relations in other, less confrontational areas are improving.
This appears to be part of a deliberate effort by Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi to improve India's relations with its smaller, less powerful neighbors.
Although the effort to improve ties with Pakistan seems to be moving more slowly than with other countries on the Subcontinent, Yaqub Khan said it would be "simplistic to put Indo-Pakistani relations on the same plane with any other of India's neighbors.