Reaching out

India and Pakistan have tried to accommodate each other’s requirements and compulsions when deciding to resume the bilateral talks which were discontinued in the wake of the terrorist attack in Mumbai in November last year. It was expected that Prime Ministers Manmohan Singh and Yousuf Raza Gilani would take the process of engagement forward at Sharm-el-Shiekh on the sidelines of the NAM summit after the ice was broken in Yekaterinburg last month. Existing in denial of or hostile to each other is not possible for neighbours when there are contentious issues to be negotiated and when a provocative spark can further inflame the situation. Both countries wisely decided to give something away in terms of the conditions for talks and the format of the future dialogue in the larger interest of improvement in bilateral relations.

India’s concern over Pakistan’s failure and inability to address terrorism directed against it from that country still remains and the Prime Minister has made it clear that the dialogue process cannot meaningfully start until the perpetrators of the Mumbai outrage are brought to book. The future of the composite dialogue will depend on satisfactory action by Pakistan on the matter. The release of JuD chief  Hafiz Saeed and Pakistan’s failure to effectively follow up the matter in courts have been a setback. India has not stuck to its demand for Pakistan dismantling its entire terrorist infrastructure as a condition for resumption of talks. Pakistan has not insisted on mentioning Kashmir specifically as an issue to be discussed. The joint statement issued after the talks between the two leaders can therefore be only a signal and not a roadmap for talks.

India, as the Prime Minister had promised, has gone more than halfway in responding to Pakistan’s keenness to restart the dialogue. It has also been sensitive to international opinion on the matter. It is for Pakistan to back its desire for talks with sincerity in meeting India’s demands. Yet another terrorist act would undo the progress that has been made. India is also not unaware of the limitations of the Pakistan government which is fighting a war on its western border against terrorists and which has no control over large areas of its territory and sections of people. But the perceived decoupling of terrorism from the talks should not be seen as a climbdown by India but as an acceptance in good faith of the commitments made by Pakistan at Sharm-el-Sheikh.

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