ONE sounds ancient while discussing the resumption of any dialogue between India and Pakistan. Not many people can even recall when the two sat across the table. And when was there any serious effort for rapprochement? The meeting of the two Home Secretaries later in the month, it is feared, may turn out to be yet another exercise which the two sides are essaying under foreign pressure. Seldom have they gone beyond doting I’s and crossing the t’s.
I have heard that President Asif Zardari told some members of civil society he invited to go on reminding him on improving relations with India. That was one year ago. In comparison, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has been more forthcoming. At Jammu earlier this month he said that he wanted good relations withPakistan and would be willing to discuss any problem, including Kashmir.
Still the relationship has stayed frozen in mistrust or, as one Pakistani diplomat said, “We are prisoners of history.” The two countries have gone so apart over the last six and a half decades since partition that they are indeed different countries, with different priorities and different preferences. Still they can find a common ground because the deadlock between them is hurting both and deepening suspicion.
New Delhi has admitted that it could not stop talking to a neighbouring country. The stance is understandable after the 26/11 terrorist attack on Mumbai. Yet the meeting between the two foreign secretaries at Delhi should not have ended in a fiasco. The two Prime Ministers at Sharm e-Sheikh in Egypt had decided to ford the water of mistakes and mishaps that had taken place. But this did not seem to have had much effect.
Even now former diplomats and foreign office bureaucrats, who have met in the last two months at Singapore, Dubai and Delhi, have talked only on terrorism. My information is that both sides said their piece and did not agree to anything specific. Most of them are hawks any way and did their worst to spoil relations between the two countries when they were in service. The two governments picked them up at their own expenses to sustain what is known as the second channel to give people false hopes.
My worry is that their discussion is going to be the agenda for the two Home Secretaries and the same biased approach would form basis on which theirforeign ministers would hold discussion. (I hope by then President Zardari’s would have appointed a full-fledged foreign minister.) I still don’t see the environs of a sustained, fruitful discussion. Meetings between secretaries, then ministers and the two prime ministers have taken place many a time before. They do not mean anything by themselves. Some of the agreements already initialled, like Sir Creeks and Siachin Glacier, should be signed and made public to give confidence to the peoples.
That India should have terrorism on the top of the list is natural because it has suffered twice, first when Parliament House was attacked in 2001 and the second when the terrorists stuck at Mumbai in 2008. Yet, after expressing its fears, New Delhi should talk on other subjects which Islamabad considers important.
The problem the two countries will face is how to deal with the opposition within their own borders. Religious parties with similar credentials are the biggest hindrance. They have no specific issue to pursue. They are just opposed to have any improvement of relations between India and Pakistan. They see the other as enemy. Both countries have to present them with a fait accompli. Any argument with them will be a waste of time and effort.
In India, the Sangh parivar and the like-minded Shiv Sena may block any step taken to span the distance. Yet there is a strong pro-Atal Bihari Vajpayee group within the BJP which can be swung in favour of a settlement. After all, the real initiative came when Vajpayee was the Prime Minister. L.K.Advani is a hard core person. But his favourable observations on Quaid-e-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah shows that he can be brought round. As regards Pakistan, the Lashkar-e-Toiba and some religious parties have vehemently criticised any rapprochement with New Delhi. In fact, one group has declared war against India.
I envisage real opposition from the army. Although former foreign minister Khurshid Kasuri, while in Delhi, assured that the army was on board when there was a near settlement, Pervez Musharraf was the then army chief apart from being the President. General Ashfaq Parvez Kiyani, Chief Army Staff, transmits different messages. One is that he is anti-India because of Kashmir and the second is that he does not like India’s activities in Afghanistan. Both have the same message of being anti-India.
I wonder if all this is true. There would have been no talks if the army was against the dialogue. The disconcerting part is that the army has not reacted to the murder of two liberals, Punjab Governor Salman Taseer and Minority Affairs Minister Bhatti. The explanation given to me is that any condemnation would have divided the army. Kiyani has reportedly told western diplomats at Islamabad that there were too many soldiers in the ranks who sympathised with the killers. Biased General Zia-Ul Haq is responsible for this development. He introduced religiosity in the armed forces.
America too cannot escape the blame. During the cold war against the Soviet Union, Washington constituted a force of fundamentalists to bleed Moscow in Afghanistan which it had occupied. The Taliban grew from that force with American equipment and support. Pakistan is a victim of Washington’s foolhardy policies. And now it is seeking negotiations with the Frankenstein they had created in the Taliban.
New Delhi and Islamabad can join hands to fight the Taliban. It is in the interest of both. But the premise for such a proposition is built is on mutual faith. Can this deficit be made up when the two Home Secretaries meet? President Zardari is right about “incendiary environment” in his country when he talked to a western diplomat. Yet Pakistan can have an ally in facing it squarely if his government instills confidence in India. To begin with, Zardari and his country have to show determination to punish the 26/11 terrorists. New Delhi too must prove to Pakistan that perpetrators of the blasts that killed some 42 Pakistanis in Samjhauta Expresswill not be spared.
However, it is intriguing to see an advertisement in the Pakistan media to demand death sentence to the killers of Samjhauta train blasts. There is nothing to suggest that the government is not pursuing the case diligently. In fact, the Hindu fundamentalists are unhappy. The habit of accusation is the main reason for the mistrust.