By Rajeev Sharma
India and Pakistan are now said to finally return to the negotiating table. Rather curiously, the decision was announced on February 10, four days after the two countries’ foreign secretaries, Nirupama Rao and Salman Bashir, met in Thimpu. Though the just-chalked out issues to be taken up by the two sides will no longer be known as “Composite Dialogue”, which Pakistan wants but India does not, the declared Indo-Pak agenda is old wine in a new bottle. The upcoming round of Indo-Pak engagement will be capped by the visit of Pakistani foreign minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi to India by July 2011.
The Indian Ministry of External Affairs came up with an “Agreed Outcome” press release on February 10, 2011 on the February 6 foreign secretary-level talks in Thimpu. The four-day gap between the talks and the announcement of outcome was necessitated as the two foreign secretaries returned to their respective capitals on February 10 only and they had to consult their respective governments before announcing the outcome. The MEA announcement said the two sides had agreed on four points: (i) to resume dialogue on all issues following the spirit of the Thimpu meeting between the two Prime Ministers in April 2010; (ii) Pakistan’s Foreign Minister will visit India by July 2011 to review progress in the dialogue process with his counterpart and this visit will be preceded by a meeting of the two Foreign Secretaries; (iii) prior to the visit of Pakistan’s foreign minister, meetings at the level of respective secretaries will be convened on counter-terrorism (including progress on Mumbai trial); humanitarian issues; peace and security, including CBMs; Jammu and Kashmir; promotion of friendly exchanges; Siachen; economic issues; Wullar Barrage/Tulbul Navigation Project; and Sir Creek (at the level of Additional Secretaries/Surveyors General); (iv) dates of the aforementioned meetings will be fixed through diplomatic channels.
All the topics mentioned above have figured in the composite dialogue and discussed between the two sides for well over a decade. It is yet to be seen whether the Pakistani foreign office has issued an identical statement or a different one. An interesting part is that the MEA statement does not mention Samjhauta Express blast (which the Pakistani side raised virulently in Thimpu on February 6), though it specifically mentions “progress on Mumbai trial” as an important talking point between the two sides in the prospective meetings. Qureshi’s India visit, which was initially planned to take place by March 2011, had to be pushed back to July because lot of preparations are needed for various secretary-level meetings that would precede the foreign minister-level meeting.
The February 6 foreign secretaries-level talks in Thimpu witnessed the two sides sticking to their respective grooves. Pakistan waved the new red flag it has acquired: the alleged involvement of “Hindu terrorists” behind the February 2007 Samjhauta Express blast in Panipat in which 42 Pakistani citizens were killed. India said it would share any more details of its investigations into the Samjhauta Express blast as and when there is something to share with Pakistan. India raised the issue of the snail-paced investigations into 26/11 terror incidents in Mumbai. The Pakistani side dismissed Indian suggestions of a tardy probe into 26/11 saying that India’s very own investigations into the Samjhauta Express blast were even tardier as Samjhauta incident took place over 21 months before the Mumbai terror attacks of November 2008.
The two nuclear-armed neighbours have fought three direct wars and one indirect war (Kargil, 1999) since 1947. It is a pragmatic decision for the two sides to start smoking the peace pipe once again as not talking to one another is not a mature strategy. Talks may or may not throw up concrete results, but India and Pakistan need to stay engaged and avoid negotiating in public glare through the media. The failed Agra summit between Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee and President Pervez Musharraf was a good example of how India and Pakistan should not conduct their bilateral relations.
The reason why India and Pakistan have continued to remain so near and yet so far is the fundamental difference in the approach of the two sides to bilateral talks. Pakistan pursues a top-down strategy; the most important issue (Kashmir) first and lesser important issues later. India is for the bottom-up approach. India has been telling Pakistan to first sort out less contentious and easily resolvable issues like Sir Creek, trade and more intensive people-to-people contacts and then go for more ticklish ones. That is why on most occasions of their bilateral engagements, India and Pakistan remain on different pages and whenever they talk it is a dialogue of the deaf.
It may seem ironical but it is true that path-breaking progress in Indo-Pak ties was made possible during the regime of General Pervez Musharraf who was the chief architect of the Kargil War. It was during his Presidency, India and Pakistan agreed to the mother of all Confidence Building Measure (CBM). No, it was not launch of Srinagar-Muzaffarabad bus service or the start of Anti Terror Mechanism wherein the two sides had intelligence summits – a move that eventually flopped. The biggest Indo-Pak CBM that came in place during Musharraf’s tenure was a ceasefire between the two militaries along the International Border, Line of Control and Actual Ground Position Line (AGPL) in Siachen area. This CBM has remained in place till date for over six years, barring a few minor violations. Moreover, it was during Musharraf’s regime that five entry-exit points across the LoC were designated and which are still functional.
All this was despite the fact that Musharraf had a uni-focal obsession with Kashmir throughout his tenure, though Pakistan has never been able to tell India what it wants except mouthing the usual sentiment that the aspirations of the Kashmiris must be taken into account. Here again, India and Pakistan came close to a settlement of the Kashmir issue during Musharraf’s regime, but the two sides could not muster enough political will.
The resolution of the India-Pakistan dispute in near or far future remains a pipe dream. Whenever the two sides meet they just agree to disagree. They water the leaves and ignore the roots. Full normalization of India-Pakistan relations is not possible till the Pakistani military establishment’s mindset undergoes a sea change. Anti-Indianism is in the DNA of Pakistani civil and military establishments. India cannot change it.
(The writer is a New Delhi-based journalist-author and a strategic analyst. He can be reached at [email protected])