ICE THAWS, NO MELT IN DISTRUST
By Poonam I Kaushish
New Delhi, March 02, 2010
The Indo-Pak ice was finally broken after a 14-month long
hiatus post 26/11. But sadly it did not end up melting the
over six decades of distrust between the warring neighbours.
It is a moot point when the deep chill will thaw!
If one expected that the first standalone engagement with
Islamabad would pick up the threads of a frayed relationship
and help ``reduce the trust deficit’’ it was not to be. At
least underscore the importance of Islamabad adhering to its
commitment to prevent its territory from being used by
anti-India elements one was totally off the mark. Instead, the
Foreign Secretary level talks not only ended as just talks.
Worse, in acrimonious tu-tu-mein-mein on ‘point scoring’ with
both sides sticking to their guns.
Pakistan Foreign Secretary Salman Bashir made plain that
Kashmir was the main focus. ““Kashmir was discussed
extensively... It is unrealistic to link 26/11 to talks...”
Adding salt to New Delhi’s injury, he averred, “We are not
desperate for dialogue. India doesn’t need to lecture us on
what needs to be done. Or demand that Pakistan should do this
or that… India has had one 26/11, we have had a 1000 Mumbais.”
Reacting to India’s demand to arrest Hafiz Saeed, he added.
“Docket on Hafiz Saeed is a piece of literature not dossier”.
True, though New Delhi went with an “open mind” to “clear the
air and seek to take a first step even if it is small towards
opening the possibility for future dialogue,” it ended
accusing Islamabad of “getting a briefing from the men in
khaki, read military. Asserted Foreign Secretary Nirupama Rao,
"We told Pakistan that trust and confidence should be
Towards that end, Islamabad needed to curb all terrorists
operating from its territory. We handed over three dossiers
containing names of 34 terrorists wanted in India, including
LeT chief Hafiz Saeed.”
Predictably, the failed talks have evoked strong opinion for
and against any further dialogue. While the proponents for
dialogue led by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh subscribe to
Winston Churchill diktat jaw-jaw is better than war-war. Given
that a country can never afford to take a position where it
refuses to talk to a nation. By snubbing Islamabad, New Delhi
was diminishing its influence over Pakistan’s ongoing
cross-border terrorism. Also, talking was significant not for
its goals but for the process itself.
Aversely, by not talking New Delhi would only strengthen and
embolden the jehadis to continue fomenting trouble. Also,
given the fast changing developments within Pakistan, the
increasing strife, trouble in SWAT, rise of Taliban and its
impact on India, there was no option. As one could not put it
past Pakistan to use its role in Afghanistan to press the US
to mediate on Kashmir. Already Washington, which brokered the
“structured” talks has welcomed that the ball has been set
Asserted a senior foreign official. “The best thing that has
come out of the talks is that there will be the start of more
dialogues, both at the official and political levels. The
idea, is to draw Pakistan into a dialogue and establish an
effective channel of communication so that Islamabad can
assist India-- to get it to cooperate and work together on
terrorism rather than reading out the riot act”. Really? Or is
this simply wishful thinking?
On the flip side, as Leader of Opposition in the Lok Sabha
Sushma Swaraj in a chat with me asserted, “I told the Prime
Minister three months ago and Nirupama Rao last week that by
resuming talks the Government was ‘undercutting' its 26/11
stance that it would only restart the dialogue with Islamabad
after it came down on terror groups based on its soil. Not
only was the BJP, but also public opinion against it.” Added
an expert, "Yes, you have to talk to a neighbour, but the
question is: On what? And how? Believe me, the dialogue
process is going to have a very thin membrane of political
backing in India." Their fears seem to be coming true.
Needless to say the Government has to come clean on why talks
were held at all. Given that the dialogue was downgraded to a
point of ‘unlikely to produce any meaningful results’ even
before they started. The cat was let out by Home Minister
Chidambaram. “I am neither optimistic nor convinced about
Islamabad’s willingness to act against terrorism”.
Or was it to appease the US? Wherein New Delhi could claim
that the talks were confined to a discussion on the action
taken by Islamabad against terrorism. And Pakistan could
assert that its stand on composite dialogue stood vindicated
by raising Kashmir and India’s non-adherence on sharing of
Be that as it may, New Delhi must come to terms with the fact
that the jihadis are opposed to any reconciliation between
India and Pakistan. The Pune terror attack was only to be
expected once the Government announced its decision to resume
official-level talks with Pakistan. Alongside, there are
elements within the Pakistan Establishment, read Army and ISI
who are equally opposed to normalisation of bilateral
relationship based on a practical and pragmatic resolution of
longstanding disputes. Witness the ease with which Hafiz Saeed
was allowed to spew venom against India at a recent public
rally in Lahore.
Indeed, it is not in the realm of impossibility that the very
critics in Pakistan of India's unwillingness to resume the
official-level dialogue may be behind the terror attacks given
their agenda to keep New Delhi permanently off balance,
damning India for not talking and damning it if it tries to.
Besides, the relationship continues to run the risk of coming
asunder again if another Mumbai-scale terror attack is
launched from Pakistan. It will not be business as usual, say
The Indian agenda is chock-full of terror concerns, as
elucidated by Home Minister Chidambaram. More. New Delhi must
beware that it does not dove-tail its Pak policy to US’s Af-Pak
strategy. Now that Washington has reconciled to
Islamabad-backed Afghan Taliban and made plain its dependence
on the ISI and Army.For when US departs Afghanistan, we would
be saddled with ‘Pakistan on steroids’ and a Taliban
What next? True, South Block has no illusions about any
dramatic transformation in Islamabad’s policy. However, it
needs an all-encompassing and multi-pronged strategy to deal
with it. The Government and its security agencies need to
remain ever vigilant, be one step ahead of the jihadis and act
promptly vis-a-vis terror attacks and cross-border terrorism.
It needs to get a no-nonsense message across to Islamabad
that ignoring New Delhi’s concerns would be by at its own
peril. At the same time, Islamabad needs to understand that
New Delhi patience should not be mistaken for weakness. Given
that it has paid the price for misreading India thrice over
vis-a-vis the Indo-Pak wars.
The bottom line? India needs to be reassured on its terror
concerns for the relationship to move to the next level.
Islamabad must unravel the full conspiracy behind the Mumbai
attack, deny sanctuary to all terrorist groups that operate
from its soil, put the trial of Lakhvi and 6 others on a fast
track and handover Hafiz Saeed to India. As also rein JuD
leader Hafiz Makki who ahead of the Pune attack had stated
that three Indian cities would be targeted by “jihadis to
teach India a lesson”. The taste of the pudding is in the
Simultaneously the Governments need to shape domestic public
opinion in a direction that would offer it some domestic
leeway for diplomatic manoeuvre. Further, if South Block feels
that it is better for India and Pakistan to hold dialogue then
it should be continuous rather than in fits and starts.
It needs to be remembered that without fundamental democratic
reform, there can be no permanent solution to patronage of
terror by one or more of Pakistan’s multiple power-centres.
Islamabad needs to do a lot more than just generating
artificial illusions. Or else, the chill will only end up as
frozen! ---- INFA
(Copyright India News & Feature Alliance)