Indo-Pak: out of sync?

The dialogue process between India and Pakistan has always been a tricky business. The Indian foreign secretary came to Islamabad last month to pave the way for foreign minister-level talks this month. Indian Foreign Minister S M Krishna came to Pakistan on a three-day visit this week to meet his counterpart, Shah Mehmood Qureshi. There was a burden of expectation that the talks might deliver something concrete, but realism suggested there would be no breakthrough and that this was just the restart of the peace process. The dialogue process had been stalled after the Mumbai attacks in 2008, thus a resumption of dialogue in itself may be considered an achievement.

India and Pakistan have disputes on many issues, with Kashmir being the oldest and possibly the most intractable. The other issues include Siachen, Sir Creek, terrorism and water, among other bilateral issues.

When Indian Foreign Secretary Nirupama Rao met her counterpart Salman Bashir in June, it was decided that no issue or subject is taboo and a comprehensive dialogue will be carried out at the foreign ministerial level but what we saw at the joint press conference in Islamabad on Thursday gave a different impression altogether. It seemed as if Mr Qureshi had a different viewpoint from that of Mr Krishna. The body language at the press conference was equally cold. On the issue of Kashmir, Mr Krishna maintained that infiltration into Indian-Held Kashmir (IHK) was high but Mr Qureshi denied ‘infiltration’ as the state’s policy or that of its intelligence agencies. To add more fuel to the fire, Mr Qureshi made another statement yesterday that Pakistan cannot remain indifferent when there is a curfew in IHK and innocent people are dying. It seems that Kashmir is once again on the front burner.

Siachen has its strategic and tactical importance. Both militaries have an interest in occupying the heights, from where they can cut off the other’s lines of communication. This advantage, however, can only come into play in the event of a war. India and Pakistan on the other hand are both embarked currently on taking a turn from the possibility of war to the possibility of peace. On the issue of Sir Creek, both countries are tantalisingly close to an agreement, but it continues to elude their grasp for lack of the requisite political will. On the terrorism front, the whole South Asian region is affected by this menace, particularly Afghanistan, Pakistan and India. These three are afflicted with the same disease in differing degrees. Since terrorists do not respect any borders, there is a pressing need to agree to a joint anti-terrorist strategy. As for David Headley’s confession and the alleged involvement of the ISI in 26/11, Pakistan must carry out a thorough investigation and if the accusation is found to be true, take the perpetrators to task. Indo-Pak water disputes can also be settled if a concerted effort is made according to the terms of the Indus Water Treaty.

Mr Krishna made it clear that Pakistan has not provided even “a shred of evidence” of India’s involvement in Balochistan. This should settle the issue once and for all. Both sides should refrain from political point scoring.

In an inherently difficult negotiating process between these long-time adversaries, one has to be very careful not to say or do anything that puts the process in reverse gear. Thus Mr Qureshi’s remarks about Mr Krishna constantly taking calls from Delhi during the meeting were regrettable. Mr Krishna has denied being on the telephone to Delhi and called Mr Qureshi’s remarks “an extraordinary statement”. It will now require even more effort and diplomacy in order to sustain the dialogue process. It is hoped that this temporary hiccup would not let the process be derailed and better sense would prevail after a cooling off period.

(my editorial in Daily Times)

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