By B. Raman
Ms.Hina Rabbani Khar, the young and seemingly forward-looking Foreign Minister of Pakistan, brought in a breath of fresh air during her short visit to New Delhi on July 26-27,2011, for talks with her Indian counterpart Mr.S.M.Krishna to review the progress in the dialogue process covering various issues since the last meeting of Shri Krishna with her predecessor, Mr.Shah Mehmood Qureshi at Islamabad in July last year.
What a near diplomatic disaster the previous meeting between Shri Krishna and Mr.Qureshi was due to the totally negative and undiplomatic attitude of Mr.Qureshi who used the joint press conference at the end of the talks and another interaction with the media subsequently to talk disparagingly of the Indian Foreign Minister and in unduly critical terms on India’s attitude to the dialogue process— particularly on the Kashmir issue!
The set-back that the dialogue process suffered due to the attitude of Mr.Qureshi has since been set right as a result of the positive outcome of the subsequent meetings between the Foreign Secretaries of the two countries at Thimpu in Bhutan in February,2011, in the margins of a SAARC meeting and between Prime Ministers Manmohan Singh and Yousef Raza Gilani at Mohali in Indian Punjab in the margins of the World Cup cricket Semi-final between India and Pakistan in the last week of March and the more businesslike attitude adopted by the senior bureaucrats of the two countries from the Interior/Home Ministries, the Foreign Offices and other concerned Ministries involved in the dialogue process during the interactions that followed the departure of Mr.Qureshi from the Pakistani Foreign Office in February last.
Ms.Khar,a hand-picked choice of President Asif Ali Zardari initially as the Minister of State for External Affairs and subsequently elevated as the Foreign Minister on the eve of her visit to India, is a Multani ( a Seraiki) like Prime Minister Gilani. She has sought to bring in a new mindset and impart a new stamp to the way Pakistan handles the dialogue process—- reducing the atmosphere of contention which has been the bane of the dialogue process and injecting an element of decency in the way the Pakistani interlocutors interact with their Indian counterparts.
The various issues bedevilling the bilateral relations—Jammu & Kashmir, cross-border terrorism, Siachen, bilateral trade, water-related differences— remain stuck up where they were stuck up when she took over the responsibility for the conduct of Pakistan’s diplomacy, but she has sought to change the ambiance of the bilateral interactions by introducing an element of decency in discourse that was markedly absent under her predecessor.
Her visit has given rise to hopes for a change in the mind-set as a result of a new generation of policy-makers coming to the fore in the Pakistani Foreign Office under her youthful leadership and guidance. Whether she ultimately succeeds in changing the mind-set or not would depend on the attitude of the Army and the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), which must be watching her moves. Her elevation as the full-fledged Foreign Minister and her being put in charge of the dialogue process with India was a carefully-calculated, but subtle attempt by Mr.Zardari to regain civilian autonomy in policy-making towards India.
Whether he succeeds or not would depend on how well Ms Khar conducts her diplomacy—-by keeping up the slow but steady forward momentum in the relations with India without creating undue alarm in the General Headquarters. There is a need for a new mind-set not only in the Pakistani Foreign Office, but also in its Army and the ISI. Changing the mind-set of the Army and the ISI is not in the hands of a youthful Minister like Ms.Khar who is taking her first steps in the tricky world of Indo-Pak diplomacy. The Army has to realise the need for a change in its mind-set towards India.
Normally, one would have been highly skeptic about the possibility of a change of mind-set in the Army and the ISI. But the Army and the ISI are highly chastened as a result of their humiliating experience at the hands of the US since the beginning of this year. There has been an introspection going on in Pakistan at various levels on the wisdom of continuing its past policies of over-dependence on the US and unnecessary confrontation with India. If this introspection leads to a realisation in the Army of the need for a change in the mind-set towards India, one can hope to see the breath of fresh air introduced by Ms.Khar gain strength and speed.