Forced handshake

There will be an invisible American shadow in the room, where Prime Minister Manmohan Singh will meet Pakistan President Asif Ali Zardari in Yekaterinburg, Russia, this week.

The US has been persuading India to restart the bilateral dialogue process, which was frozen after the terrorist attack in Mumbai last year. US Under Secretary of State William Burns, who was in Delhi last week, pushed the matter again, went to the extent of welcoming ‘talks on Kashmir’, and even said that the talks should take into account the wishes of the people of Kashmir. India’s consistent position has been that it needs no third party to be involved in its relations with Pakistan. But the US pressure seems to have softened Delhi’s position, though not to the extent of resuming the substantial dialogue process, but at least symbolically restarting it with a meeting between the top leaders of both countries. Both may meet again in Egypt next month.

Pakistan is also keen on starting the dialogue again, though it has not fulfilled the conditions India has attached to it. India had made it clear that Pakistan should punish those behind the Mumbai outrage and dismantle the terrorist infrastructure in that country. Though Islamabad has gone through the motions of action, there have been contradictory signals also, like the release of JUD leader Hafiz Sayeed. External Affairs Minister S M Krishna underlined this point again.

India has always been for establishment of normal relations with Pakistan and has taken the initiative to rescue the dialogue process from deadlocked positions in the past. Last week, the Prime Minister, making a policy statement in Parliament, sent a message of peace across to Pakistan and said that there is no alternative to dialogue. But Islamabad has to take credible steps to convince India that it is serious about the peace process. Terrorists based in Pakistan can again disrupt the process, if their infrastructure is still intact. That underlines the importance of India’s demand to destroy their network.

Pakistan has again made references to Kashmir as the core problem between the two countries. If a Kashmir-centric dialogue is the price Pakistan is demanding for its fight against the Taliban, India is not obliged to pay it. India’s peace with Pakistan is to be on its own terms. A shake-hand in Yekaterinburg is fine, as a gesture of courtesy. But substantive talks can take place only in an improved environment.

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