Road to reconciliation

Between the Lines

Diplomatic jargon is anything but precise. Its vagueness covers up different strands and injured sensitivities. Yet the purpose is served. There was an overall demand for India and Pakistan to resume their dialogue. But how to make it possible was the problem. New Delhi’s contention was that it could not begin the talks when the terrorists responsible for the Mumbai carnage had not been brought to justice and when the training camps in Pakistan had not been dismantled.

The visit by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and President Asif Ali Zardari to a Russian City, Yekaterinburg, came in handy. The two were attending the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation summit. The organisation, with Brazil, Russia, Indonesia and China as members and India and Pakistan as observers, reflects big power rivalry in Asia.

True, the Pakistan High Commission at Delhi had made an official request for Asif Ali Zardari’s appointment with Manmohan Singh at the time of the Shanghai summit. But India was reluctant to be seen holding talks when the conditions for the dialogue had not been fulfiled. Yet it was important for the two to meet to break the ice because of increasing antagonism between the countries who share border hundreds of miles long.

It is apparent that the ruling Congress did not want to go against the public opinion which tended to take an anti-Pakistan stand after the attack on Mumbai. Parliament too had taken a hard line in its first session this month and had given a sort of mandate to Manmohan Singh. That was the reason why he told Zardari within the hearing of the media that he (Manmohan Singh) had a limited mandate which was to ask Pakistan to give assurance that it would not allow the terrorist attacking India to operate from its territory.

I personally think India should have initiated the talks earlier. It would have served as pressure on Islamabad. Had there been a dialogue going on between the two, Pakistan would have filed an appeal in the Supreme Court against the release by Lahore High Court of Lakshar-e-Toiba leader Hafiz Sayeed. Islamabad would not have risked the break down by not acting against him. 

America’s relentless pressure on both the governments was also there. I believe Washington was in constant touch with the representatives of the two governments to know about the progress of talks.

Unfortunately, the US may be a third person overlooking the shoulders of two foreign secretaries when they meet to discuss terrorism, the point agreed upon between the Prime Minister and the President.

Pakistan Foreign Minister Shah Mahmud Qureshi is quite right in describing the meeting as ‘a positive step’. At last the deadlock has been broken. Some commentators in India have reacted adversely. They have argued that New Delhi had once again frittered away the advantage without getting anything concrete. Their plea is that the international pressure on Pakistan was so heavy that it would have agreed to India’s two conditions in due course.

My feeling is that the international pressure was beginning to be on New Delhi to start the dialogue. Most of the critics in India are hawks. If it had been up to them, they would have driven India to war against Pakistan long ago. Some India TV channels are all the time talking as if there is no option to hostilities.

It is obvious that foreign secretaries would not be discussing only the terrorist using the Pakistan soil to attack India. The talk looks like meandering to the gamut of terrorism which is posing threat to the very entity of Pakistan. 

South Asian approach

India may want to participate in the war against terrorism in the entire region and evolve a South Asian approach. Washington has reportedly requested New Delhi to send its forces to fight by the side of the Pakistan army. But for that Islamabad would have to build up confidence in India. I wish there were some effort, however small, towards that.

Manmohan Singh has said that India would go more than half way if Pakistan were seen to cover some distance. The latter can give evidence of that by dismantling the training camps straightway. It is difficult for the Indian people to be convinced about the Pakistan’s bonafides if the training centres stay intact.

Zardari is said to have been embarrassed by the reportedly tough talk by Manmohan Singh. The Pakistan President would be still more embarrassed by the talk in which most people in India indulge. They are exasperated. They suspect Pakistan. Yet, however, different politically, we are emotionally and mentally the same. Let there be more and wider people-to-people contact. This would help.

The meeting between Manmohan Singh and Asif Ali Zardari should not be taken as a compromise with the forces which are bent upon substituting liberal thinking by fanaticism. The meeting was a long awaited step which might even give heart to opponents and hawks. But it was worth taking.

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