IN a barren relationship, even a small shower makes the difference. The ground is broken. India and Pakistan have been distant neighbours for more than six decades. That Foreign Secretaries of the two countries met and did not disperse in disgust is itself news. But when both are satisfied after the talks, they make a big splash.
India’s Nirupama Rao said that they discussed all pending problems before the two countries. Pakistan’s Salman Bashir admitted that there was a meeting of minds. This is a positive development. Both have affirmed in a joint statement “the need to carry forward the dialogue process.” This means that the foreign ministers of the two countries will be meeting soon at Delhi.
I was confident that the dialogue would move further. Both countries had assailed each other for public consumption. The road was clear to go ahead. On the eve of the meeting, Pakistan said that India was not doing enough to pursue the Hindu terrorists in the bomb blast on the Samjouhta Express. This was in response to New Delhi’s regret that enough progress has not been made on the 26/11 Mumbai attack. And Laskhar-e-Toiba chief Hafeez Saeed threatened that India should either quit Kashmir or be ready to face a war.
Against this backdrop my fears on the deadlock were not unfounded. Salman Bashir changed a bit. He said that the terrorists did not belong to “a particular denomination.” This too was New Delhi’s belated realisation when it discovered that “saffron terrorists” were part of terrorism in the country. Earlier, the argument would be that all Muslims were not terrorists, but all terrorists were Muslims.
However, Saeed’s cry of a war remains unchallenged. Islamabad sticks to its line that no legal evidence has been found against his involvement in the 26/11 attack on Mumbai. But it does not justify Islamabad’s silence for his saber-rattling against India in which he indulges every now and then. I concede that if the two sides had confidence in each other, they would take rhetoric in their stride. Yet the fact remains that New Delhi considers action against Saeed as a litmus test to lessen deficit in trust.
When Pakistan Chief Justice Iftikhar Mohammad Choudhary says at a conference in Hyderabad (India) that the democratic government, which replaced the military rule, did not undo or nullify the acts and actions of the military rule, he puts the Asif Zardari government in the dock. What Choudhary tries to convey is that the government lacked courage to fight against such forces that defy the law. Probably, the case of Saeed fits into this category.
Ultimately, the inclination by Pakistan army chief would prevail. There are conflicting messages about General Parvez Kayani. Wikileaks say that the agreement between Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and the then President General Pervez Musharraf was ready for signature. But General Kayani did not give his assent. On the other hand, former foreign minister Khurshid Qureshi, who was in Delhi recently, said the agreement could not be signed because of the lawyers’ strike in Pakistan.
Qureshi categorically stated that the army was on board. That does not say much because President Musharraf held sway on the army at that time. The reason why I am emphasizing on the consent of the army is the position it enjoys in the affairs of Pakistan. There is nothing categorical to suggest whether General Kayani is for a settlement on the lines the two countries have sought to sort out Kashmir problem. However, at Thimpu Pakistan’s foreign secretary reportedly said that the army fully backed the dialogue which he had started with Nirupama Rao.
However, what General Kayani has reportedly said earlier indicates a tough stand on Kashmir. He is said to have reiterated that the relations with India depended on the settlement on Kashmir. In an effort to know his mind, India’s Security Adviser Shiv Shankar Menon wanted to meet him during the Security Conference which he and General Kayani were attending at Munich. I wish I knew whether they met or just avoided each other.
In the meanwhile, people on both sides would like to know about the agreement reached on Kashmir through back channel. When both the governments say that 80 per cent of settlement has been reached, it suggested that certain proposals had been accepted by both the parties. What are they? There should be transparency in such things. People on both sides should know the contents of the settlement reached so far. Ultimately, they are the ones who count. Behind-the-scene talks are okay up to a point. But in a democratic structure, people are the rulers and they must know what the conditions of the agreement are.
The problem that clouds better relations between the two countries is because Islamabad has put all its eggs in the Kashmir basket. Unless that is settled to its satisfaction, no progress can be made on trade and the relaxation of visa to facilitate people to people relations. I believe that the implementation of these two points can bring people of the two nations closer and remove the cobwebs of mistrust against each other.
I believe Nirupama Rao proposed the resumption of trade. This will create vested interests in the prosperity of each other’s country. I wish she had offered the signing of the two agreements on Sir Creek and Siachin Glacier, already initialled. Islamabad would have felt assured that New Delhi was giving up its frozen posture.
Zulfikar Ali Bhutto favoured at one time, step by step approach, which India has come to adopt. But it is three decades late. He then wanted an overall settlement which Pakistan favours now. Only a dialogue can sort out the differences. Nirupama Rao has warned that for the next few months, things are not going to remain dormant. There will be a lot of activity. This confirms the report that the two home secretaries will meet before the foreign ministers do.
Nirupama Rao has said: “The intention is to resume the process.” Both sides have agreed to work on the principle of “law of comity.” Comity refers to legal reciprocity. It means that courts should not act in a way that demeans the jurisdiction, laws or judicial decisions of another country.
More and more talks, not just at the governments’ level, but at the level of academicians, businessmen, lawyers, doctors, journalists and other members of the civil society are essential. Both sides should be prepared for a long haul, ready to face the ups and downs. There will be attempts to sabotage by those who do not want friendly relations and threats by fundamentalists to communalize the efforts. To counter these, the two countries required to show commitment and determination to normalize relations.