Time to move forward

India formally asked Pakistan on Thursday to revive foreign secretary-level Indo-Pak talks. Pakistan’s foreign office has sought a clarification as to the agenda of the meeting and has shown a desire for the resumption of the composite dialogue, suspended following the terror attacks in Mumbai in November 2008. The 26/11 terror attacks cannot be condemned enough. They turned out to be a diplomatic disaster for the subcontinent. The composite dialogue between India and Pakistan, which had been initiated after decades of tensions between the neighbouring nuclear armed states, was stalled post-26/11. Since then Pakistan has been asking for a resumption of the dialogue but India wanted guarantees that the Mumbai attackers would be brought to justice and non-state actors would not be allowed to operate from Pakistani soil. This led to an increase in tensions and an ensuing war of words. With the passage of time, voices within India and at the international level opined that this was a self-defeating policy and only benefited the terrorists. By not resuming the composite dialogue, India played into the hands of the elements responsible for the Mumbai attacks. Prime Minister Gilani said that international pressure has forced India to come to the negotiating table. Whether this is true or not is beside the point. The most important thing is that sense has finally prevailed and both sides have realised that it is time to move forward. Tensions between India and Pakistan reverberated throughout the South Asian region. Therefore, India’s offer to resume high-level talks is a step in the right direction.

Indian Home Minister P Chidambaram will be visiting Pakistan this month, making him the highest level Indian official to visit us since 26/11. In a recent interview, Chidambaram revealed that someone living in India or an Indian himself could have provided help to the non-state actors during the coordinated attacks in Mumbai. This seems quite plausible, as these attacks could not have been possible without inside help. Putting all the blame on Pakistan while turning a blind eye to the insider factor was wrong, but India’s finally admitting the possibility of this aspect bodes well for both countries. India and Pakistan have to realise that the nexus of terrorists is no respecter of borders. Terrorists are our common enemy. In order to fight them, we have to stand together. Opting for a freeze in the dialogue is exactly what the terrorists aimed for. The revival of dialogue will be a slap in their faces. After May 1998, the option of war in the subcontinent under a nuclear shadow cannot even be contemplated. It will not only prove disastrous for both India and Pakistan but the whole region.

As for Pakistan’s concerns regarding the Indian role in Afghanistan, we saw that at the London conference the proposal to set up a regional council to include India was sidelined on Pakistan’s objections despite having the backing of the US and the UK. What was positive was that this overture did not sour the rest of the conference, and even led to a meeting of the Pakistani and Indian foreign ministers on its sidelines.
It is hoped that India and Pakistan will be able to sort out their issues bilaterally. No doubt there are thorny issues such as Kashmir and the water dispute but these can be settled amicably. On Kashmir, both countries must reach a compromise as there is no other way to settle this decades-old issue. The water dispute can be settled as per international law and the Indus Water Treaty. For peace and normalcy to return to the region, India and Pakistan must let bygones be bygones and move forward.

(my editorial in Daily Times)

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