By Sarkaritel March 23, 2016 10:01


Pokhara Dialogue


By Vinod Sharma 

The rhetoric exchange of pleasantries and bonhomie New Delhi shared with Islamabad on the sidelines of SAARC Foreign Ministers’ Conference at Pokhara in Nepal has again brought the issue of bilateral relations between the two countries into spotlight. This was the first formal meeting between External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj and her Pakistani counterpart Sartaj Aziz after the deadly January 2 cross-border terror attack on the IAF base at Pathankot.

At Pokhara, Swaraj exchanged pleasantries with Aziz at dinner, breakfast and then in one-to-one solitude, presumably to build up a conducive atmosphere, before formally resuming the derailed dialogue process. Expectedly, the bilateral talks centered on the Pathankot attack and Pakistan’s lackadaisical approach in exposing the perpetrators—mainly the Masood Azhar-led Jaish-e-Mohammed terrorist outfit. Resultantly, both India and Pakistan agreed to send the much-awaited 5-member Joint Investigative Team (JIT) to Pathankot for an on-the-spot probe.

Secondly, Pakistan also formally handed over an invitation for Prime Minister Modi to attend the SAARC summit scheduled to take place in Islamabad later this year. Further, both the leaders expressed hope of a meeting between Modi and Nawaz Sharif on the sidelines of the Nuclear Summit, slated in Washington March-end. In all, India seemed ever-eager to pick up the threads of dialogue, badly tattered by the onslaught of mistrust and betrayal on part of Pakistan in the form of Pathankot attack.

Undeniably, the attack was a big shocker as India had not even come out from the feeling of exuberance of diplomatic victory over Pakistan after Modi’s bold initiative to unexpectedly visit to Lahore last December. The visit was indeed historic in the wake of conflicts and disputes of a grave nature responsible to bring the bilateral relations at their lowest ebb. But the euphoria didn’t last long. Perhaps the “innovative diplomacy” appeared as a major threat to the existence of vested interests in Pakistan as well as India, who disturbed mutual trust by executing Pathankot attack.

The tone for resuming the dialogue, before Pathankot attack, was set in Ufa, where a joint declaration was adopted to initiate dialogue and sort out contentious issues—including cross border terrorism. After cancellation of NSA level talks unceremoniously, Modi had again met  Sharif on the sidelines of Climate Change Summit in Paris, presumably to prevail upon him for initiating peace process. Ultimately, the ice was broken in Bangkok, when the NSAs of the two countries officially met to carry forward the dialogue.

Then was the “Heart of Asia” summit in Islamabad in which Swaraj announced to work out bilateral talks at various levels and have a comprehensive dialogue to sort out all issues. This led to like infusing a new blood in the cold atmosphere and further set the tone for Foreign Secretary level talks from January 15 in New Delhi. However, everything went haywire after the Pathankot attack on January 2. The dialogue came to a grinding halt with both nations losing a major opportunity of reconciliation due to cancellation of foreign secretary level talks. Yet, India continued to hope for resumption of talks, everything got embroiled in the Pathankot tragedy.

However, it is quite disappointing as well disturbing that despite being given a heap of evidences on Jaish-e-Mohammed’s direct involvement in the Pathankot attack, Masood Azhar is still at large in Pakistan. No action taken against him and his terror outfit. Rather, it says, the evidences provided by India are insufficient. Annoyed by such dilly-dallying, Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar even accused Pakistan of being non-serious and “pretending to be asleep” on the probe.

Nearly a month ago, Pakistan formed a new JIT to probe the attack, while replacing the earlier SIT, and lodged first FIR in the case, that too without naming JeM chief Masood Azhar, who India has accused of having masterminded the strike. One can imagine the outcome of such bushed up investigation as it seems to be destined to meet the same fate as of Mumbai terror attack and other major attacks executed by Pakistanis on the Indian soil from time to time.

Though terrorism and peace talks cannot go hand-in-hand, the initiation of peace process in Pokhara is praiseworthy after a lull, provided it results in achieving something positive and concrete in curbing militancy and improving ever-strained relations.

Recall, India has a long history of honestly endeavoring to have cordial relations with Pakistan. During the previous NDA government of Atal Behari Vajpayee, many liberal confidence-building-measures, including Delhi-Lahore bus service, were initiated. Moreover, the historic Agra Summit was organized to resolve long-standing issues between the two, including a proposal to drastically reduce nuclear arsenal and issues involving the Kashmir dispute, cross border terrorism. However, due to the adamancy of then Pak President Musharraf, the negotiations broke down and the process collapsed, resulting into cancellation of Agra treaty.

Earlier in 1999, during Vajpayee’s Pakistan visit, both countries had acceded and successfully ratified the Lahore Declaration and pledged to make joint efforts for peace and stability in South Asia. Instead, Pakistan imposed Kargil war clandestinely, which was a major blow to the Lahore treaty. Surprisingly, Musharraf was widely believed to be a strategic mastermind and brain behind the Kargil war.

Take more such examples. On June 20, 2004, both the countries had agreed to extend a nuclear testing ban and to set up a hotline between their foreign secretaries aimed at preventing misunderstandings that might lead to a nuclear war. Both also agreed to a ceasefire on border posts and fencing of the LoC. But belligerent Pakistan never adhered to its agreements, particularly the ceasefire issue. On February 10, 2011, India again agreed to resume talks with Pakistan which were later suspended after the 26/11 Mumbai attacks. India had put on hold all diplomatic relations with Islamabad, saying it will only continue if Pakistan will act against the culprits of the horrific Mumbai attacks. After that both the nations did not come on negotiating table till the new NDA government took some bold steps to initiative peace process.

It is an open secret that Pakistani army and their intelligence agency, ISI, are the two major destructive factors as far as relations between New Delhi and Islamabad are concerned. Both of them seem to have enjoyed supremacy over their political leadership and friendlier to anti-India disgruntled elements working in Kashmir or elsewhere. However, Pakistan always remains in denial mode in accepting its involvement in terror acts, despite fool-proof evidences. Therefore, political leadership alone is not in a position to be friendly with India while burying the hatchet, unless all stakeholders in Pakistan are superseded and crushed.

Hence, the resumption of talks in Pokhara only suggest reposing faith in Pakistan, like all earlier occasions, by the magnanimous and peace-loving India. However, let’s hope that one day good sense prevails on Pakistan, and it stops the acts of betrayals. Nevertheless, the resumption of dialogue will prepare a fertile ground for the ensuing SAARC Summit in Islamabad later this year, where issues like terrorism, regional peace, stability and prosperity as well as strong bilateral relations will be at the centre stage. Meanwhile, Pakistan has sufficient time to prove its credibility and trustworthiness by ensuring fair probe into the Pathankot terror attack. —INFA

 (Copyright, India News and Feature Alliance)

By Sarkaritel March 23, 2016 10:01