TALK SOONER THAN LATER

If the governments of India and Pakistan cannot start cooperating
against the common enemy soon enough, today’s accusations will become
facts and tenets of belief tomorrow and serious exchanges will become
harder than ever
by I. A. Rehman
Hopes of resumption of India-Pakistan dialogue, aroused by Prime
Minister Manmohan Singh’s speech in Srinagar last month, have not
borne fruit as early as one had expected or wished for. But there is
some consolation in the fact that both sides seem to be trying to
overcome whatever reservations on picking up the thread they have.
Mr Manmohan Singh referred to ties with Pakistan at the end of his
address on building a “new Kashmir”, in the course of which he
declared that “the perpetrators of the acts of terror must pay the
heaviest penalty for their barbaric crimes against humanity”. Then he
added:
“It is a misplaced idea that one can reach a compromise with the
ideology of the terrorists or that they can be used for one’s own
political purpose. Eventually they turn against you and bring only
death and destruction. The real face of the terrorists is clear for
the people of Pakistan to see with their own eyes. I hope that the
government of Pakistan will take the ongoing actions against the
terrorist groups to their logical conclusion. They should destroy
these groups wherever they are operating and for whatever misguided
purpose. I call upon the people and the government of Pakistan to
show their sincerity and good faith. As I have said many times
before, we will not be found wanting in our response… I appeal to the
government of Pakistan to carry forward the hand of friendship that
we have extended. This is in the interest of the people of India and
Pakistan”.
Mr Manmohan Singh was not as eloquent a seeker of peace as he was in
January 2007 when he had declared: “I dream of a day, while retaining
our respective national identities, one can have breakfast in
Amritsar, lunch in Lahore and dinner in Kabul. That is how my
forefathers lived. That is how I want our grandchildren to live”.
Still, considering the hiatus in India-Pakistan relations throughout
the past 12 months the Indian Premier’s gesture could only be
welcomed. This was duly done by the Pakistan Foreign Office but
subsequently it gave the impression that while Islamabad wanted to
resume negotiations New Delhi’s response was not wholly positive. One
should like to hope that this impression is not correct and that Mr
Manmohan Singh sincerely meant what he had said.
It is not difficult to imagine what the obstacles to resumption of
talks are. Nobody in Pakistan should quarrel with India about its
reaction to the terrorist raid on Mumbai a year ago. India was
wounded materially and in its pride at the exposure of a security
lapse no one could comfortably live with. Not only the government but
also the people of India were outraged. On the eve of a critically
important general election the Indian government was under pressure
to talk tough and reject negotiations with Pakistan until those
believed to be responsible for terrorism in Mumbai were surrendered.
The impasse caused by Islamabad’s inability to concede New Delhi’s
demand was a somewhat expanded version of the earlier disruptions
following acts of terrorism in Delhi (parliament house) and Mumbai
(trains). Since Pakistan is unlikely to hand over the persons named
by India it is required to offer satisfaction in some other form, as
had happened earlier. General Musharraf was able to keep the
composite dialogue going without surrendering the man wanted by India
by promising New Delhi relief in Kashmir. And, after a couple of
abortive attempts, he did manage to deliver what he had promised. Can
the present Pakistan government accomplish something similar? And,
what is more important, can this government be credited with the
strength to honour its commitments?
This must be one of the critical questions faced by former Foreign
Secretary Riaz Mohammad Khan during his Track Two mission to India.
One does not know whether his choice for backdoor diplomacy was meant
to be an atonement for the ungainly way of his removal from the
Foreign Office, or whether it was an acknowledgment of his
professional competence, or whether he was given a broad mandate.
(Incidentally, without questioning Mr Riaz Mohammad Khan’s impressive
credentials, the difficulties Track One diplomacy veterans face in
descending to Track Two cannot be overlooked.)
It is difficult to believe that meaningful talks with India can be
revived without a shared understanding that both India and Pakistan
will give top priority to the task of preventing terrorist attacks
from across the borders and a clear promise of a joint struggle to
rid the subcontinent of the spectre of suicidal terrorism.
The reasons for attaching priority to the composite dialogue begun in
2004 are obvious. It has been the most mature concept of all India-
Pakistan normalisation exercises. It covers a wide range of issues:
confidence-building measures related to peace and security; the
Kashmir issue; Siachin, Sir Creek, Wullar Barrage; terrorism and drug
trafficking; economic cooperation; and friendly exchanges in various
fields.
Nobody can deny that some progress has been registered in each of the
areas indicated above, however small it may appear, especially to
people who are in a hurry to claim trophies. The point to be
understood is that the composite dialogue by itself will not end all
India-Pakistan disputes, disagreements and differences but the
process could enable the two countries to start appreciating the
benefits of mutual understanding and friendly cooperation. Only then
will it be possible to tackle the serious causes of the illogical and
unaffordable confrontation that has grievously harmed the people of
both India and Pakistan.
A fresh reason for resuming India-Pakistan dialogue is a palpable
worsening of their relations. Islamabad continues to accuse India of
interference in Balochistan. And now it has started blaming India for
aiding the militants challenging the Pakistan state in the tribal
region, although one cannot imagine the Indians to have forsaken
wisdom and prudence to the extent of feeding the genie that is
threatening not only Pakistan but also India and the rest of South
Asia. If the governments of India and Pakistan cannot start
cooperating against the common enemy soon enough, today’s accusations
will become facts and tenets of belief tomorrow and serious exchanges
will become harder than ever.
Meanwhile, both India and Pakistan will do themselves a great deal of
good by easing the restrictions on the people-to-people exchanges.
The people on both sides of the frontier perhaps have a much clearer
comprehension of the imperatives of normal relations between their
countries than their rulers do. They are quite capable of helping
their governments in an orderly descent from the bastions of
confrontation where they have perched themselves longer than
warranted by good sense.

If the governments of India and Pakistan cannot start cooperating

against the common enemy soon enough, today’s accusations will become

facts and tenets of belief tomorrow and serious exchanges will become

harder than ever

by I. A. Rehman

Hopes of resumption of India-Pakistan dialogue, aroused by Prime

Minister Manmohan Singh’s speech in Srinagar last month, have not

borne fruit as early as one had expected or wished for. But there is

some consolation in the fact that both sides seem to be trying to

overcome whatever reservations on picking up the thread they have.

Mr Manmohan Singh referred to ties with Pakistan at the end of his

address on building a “new Kashmir”, in the course of which he

declared that “the perpetrators of the acts of terror must pay the

heaviest penalty for their barbaric crimes against humanity”. Then he

added:

“It is a misplaced idea that one can reach a compromise with the

ideology of the terrorists or that they can be used for one’s own

political purpose. Eventually they turn against you and bring only

death and destruction. The real face of the terrorists is clear for

the people of Pakistan to see with their own eyes. I hope that the

government of Pakistan will take the ongoing actions against the

terrorist groups to their logical conclusion. They should destroy

these groups wherever they are operating and for whatever misguided

purpose. I call upon the people and the government of Pakistan to

show their sincerity and good faith. As I have said many times

before, we will not be found wanting in our response… I appeal to the

government of Pakistan to carry forward the hand of friendship that

we have extended. This is in the interest of the people of India and

Pakistan”.

Mr Manmohan Singh was not as eloquent a seeker of peace as he was in

January 2007 when he had declared: “I dream of a day, while retaining

our respective national identities, one can have breakfast in

Amritsar, lunch in Lahore and dinner in Kabul. That is how my

forefathers lived. That is how I want our grandchildren to live”.

Still, considering the hiatus in India-Pakistan relations throughout

the past 12 months the Indian Premier’s gesture could only be

welcomed. This was duly done by the Pakistan Foreign Office but

subsequently it gave the impression that while Islamabad wanted to

resume negotiations New Delhi’s response was not wholly positive. One

should like to hope that this impression is not correct and that Mr

Manmohan Singh sincerely meant what he had said.

It is not difficult to imagine what the obstacles to resumption of

talks are. Nobody in Pakistan should quarrel with India about its

reaction to the terrorist raid on Mumbai a year ago. India was

wounded materially and in its pride at the exposure of a security

lapse no one could comfortably live with. Not only the government but

also the people of India were outraged. On the eve of a critically

important general election the Indian government was under pressure

to talk tough and reject negotiations with Pakistan until those

believed to be responsible for terrorism in Mumbai were surrendered.

The impasse caused by Islamabad’s inability to concede New Delhi’s

demand was a somewhat expanded version of the earlier disruptions

following acts of terrorism in Delhi (parliament house) and Mumbai

(trains). Since Pakistan is unlikely to hand over the persons named

by India it is required to offer satisfaction in some other form, as

had happened earlier. General Musharraf was able to keep the

composite dialogue going without surrendering the man wanted by India

by promising New Delhi relief in Kashmir. And, after a couple of

abortive attempts, he did manage to deliver what he had promised. Can

the present Pakistan government accomplish something similar? And,

what is more important, can this government be credited with the

strength to honour its commitments?

This must be one of the critical questions faced by former Foreign

Secretary Riaz Mohammad Khan during his Track Two mission to India.

One does not know whether his choice for backdoor diplomacy was meant

to be an atonement for the ungainly way of his removal from the

Foreign Office, or whether it was an acknowledgment of his

professional competence, or whether he was given a broad mandate.

(Incidentally, without questioning Mr Riaz Mohammad Khan’s impressive

credentials, the difficulties Track One diplomacy veterans face in

descending to Track Two cannot be overlooked.)

It is difficult to believe that meaningful talks with India can be

revived without a shared understanding that both India and Pakistan

will give top priority to the task of preventing terrorist attacks

from across the borders and a clear promise of a joint struggle to

rid the subcontinent of the spectre of suicidal terrorism.

The reasons for attaching priority to the composite dialogue begun in

2004 are obvious. It has been the most mature concept of all India-

Pakistan normalisation exercises. It covers a wide range of issues:

confidence-building measures related to peace and security; the

Kashmir issue; Siachin, Sir Creek, Wullar Barrage; terrorism and drug

trafficking; economic cooperation; and friendly exchanges in various

fields.

Nobody can deny that some progress has been registered in each of the

areas indicated above, however small it may appear, especially to

people who are in a hurry to claim trophies. The point to be

understood is that the composite dialogue by itself will not end all

India-Pakistan disputes, disagreements and differences but the

process could enable the two countries to start appreciating the

benefits of mutual understanding and friendly cooperation. Only then

will it be possible to tackle the serious causes of the illogical and

unaffordable confrontation that has grievously harmed the people of

both India and Pakistan.

A fresh reason for resuming India-Pakistan dialogue is a palpable

worsening of their relations. Islamabad continues to accuse India of

interference in Balochistan. And now it has started blaming India for

aiding the militants challenging the Pakistan state in the tribal

region, although one cannot imagine the Indians to have forsaken

wisdom and prudence to the extent of feeding the genie that is

threatening not only Pakistan but also India and the rest of South

Asia. If the governments of India and Pakistan cannot start

cooperating against the common enemy soon enough, today’s accusations

will become facts and tenets of belief tomorrow and serious exchanges

will become harder than ever.

Meanwhile, both India and Pakistan will do themselves a great deal of

good by easing the restrictions on the people-to-people exchanges.

The people on both sides of the frontier perhaps have a much clearer

comprehension of the imperatives of normal relations between their

countries than their rulers do. They are quite capable of helping

their governments in an orderly descent from the bastions of

confrontation where they have perched themselves longer than

warranted by good sense.

Source: The News on Sunday

22 November 2009

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