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India-Pakistan: Keeping the Fingers Crossed

Between June 24 and July 15,one would be seeing three important bilateral interactions, not amounting to a resumption of the composite dialogue, between India and Pakistan.

2.On June 24, Mrs.Nirupama Rao, our Foreign Secretary, will be in Islamabad, for talks with her Pakistani counterpart. During her stay, she will be, inter alia, preparing the ground work for the visits to Islamabad of Mr. P.Chidambaram, the Home Minister, and Mr. S.M.Krishna, the Foreign Minister, which are to follow.

3. Mr. Chidambaram, accompanied by a team of senior officials from his Ministry and the Ministry of External Affairs, will be in Islamabad later this week to attend the meeting of the Home Ministers of SAARC under the chairmanship of Mr.Rehman Malik, Pakistan’s Interior Minister, and a trusted confidante of President Asif Ali Zardari. Closer co-operation in counter-terrorism and the improvement of traditions of mutual legal assistance in criminal matters by the member-countries, both of which are presently more an exception than the rule, will be on the top of the agenda for the SAARC conference.

4. Media reports indicate that smaller countries such as Sri Lanka and the Maldives are unhappy that the SAARC, in its preoccupation with issues raised by India and Pakistan, has not been paying adequate attention to other regional security issues which are of greater interest to them such as regional co-operation in maritime counter-terrorism and counter-piracy. Being island countries, Sri Lanka and the Maldives have legitimate expectations that terrorism and law and order problems emanating from the sea and across the seas should receive greater attention than they have received in the past. This is an important subject. Its importance has been further enhanced by the Lashkar-e-Toiba’s (LET) sea-borne attacks in Mumbai from November 26 to 29,2008.

5. Mr. Chidambaram will be utilising his stay in Islamabad for bilateral interactions with Mr.Malik and other important Pakistani leaders, including the Pakistani Foreign Minister, Mr.Shah Mahmood Qureshi. Comments emanating from different sources in Pakistan —-governmental as well as non-Governmental— indicate that the Pakistani authorities are aware of the important position occupied by Mr.Chidambaram in the Cabinet of Dr.Manmohan Singh and the confidence reportedly reposed in him by Dr.Singh as well as Mrs.Sonia Gandhi, the leader of the Congress (I). As the Minister in charge of counter-terrorism and counter-insurgency, the perceptions of the post-26/11 Pakistani mindset, attitudes and policies formed by him during his visit to Pakistan would have an important role in influencing a decision by India on “What next?”

6. There is, therefore, a discernible keenness in Islamabad to see that Mr.Chidambaram’s bilateral innteractions proceed smoothly without any jarring note. Such a jarring note could come either in the form of a new act of terrorism by jihadi elements from Pakistan either in Indian territory outside Jammu & Kashmir or on Indian nationals and interests in Afghanistan, committed before, during or in the days following his visit. Even if there be no fresh act of terrorism, even highly provocative and instigatory anti-India statements during this period by jihadi leaders such as Prof.Hafiz Mohammad Sayeed, the Amir of the Jammat-ud-Dawa, the political wing of the LET, could derail the exercise undertaken by Dr.Singh and Mr.Yousef Raza Gilani, the Pakistani Prime Minister. for creating an atmosphere of trust in the bilateral relations as a prelude to a resumption of a comprehensive dialogue on various issues bedevilling the relations between the two countries.

7. Trust-building will be the main objective of the interactions of Mr.Krishna in Pakistan from July 15. The meeting between Mr.Chidambaram and Mr.Malik the plans for which were drawn up long before the decision taken by the two Prime Ministers for a trust-building exercise in the margins of the SAARC summit in Thimpu, Bhutan, in April has acquired an added importance in the context of the visit of our Foreign Minister. How Mr. Chidambaram’s visit proceeds would have an important bearing on the subsequent visit of Mr.Krishna.

8. If Mr.Chidambaram comes back with a feeling that the Pakistani political and military-cum-intelligence leadership continues to be as negative as ever in matters relating to counter-terrorism in general and counter-LET in particular, public and political pressures against any fresh diplomatic initiatives vis-a-vis Pakistan could increase thereby tying the hands of Mr.Krishna.

9. The Pakistani authorities are aware of this danger too and are hoping that the visits of Mr.Chidambaram and Mr.Krishna would not at least add to the current distrust, even if they don’t result in winds of change and trust beginning to sweep across the sub-continent. Both Mr.Malik and Mr.Qureshi have been avoiding negative-seeming comments. One saw this during the recent summit of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) at Tashkant, which was attended by Mr.Zardari and Mr.Krishna as observers. Mr.Malik had accompanied Mr.Zardari.

10. Both Pakistan and India find themselves prisoners of self-created formulations, which hamper the search for a way out of the current darkness of distrust.By making any progress in sorting out other issues a hostage to the Kashmir issue, Pakistan has denied itself any room for policy flexibility. India has created a similar dead-end for itself by making progress in other issues a hostage to the issue of sincere Pakistani action against the jihadi terrorists in general and the LET in particular.

11. Breaking these self-created prisons is not going to be easy. It will be time-consuming. It will require a long spell of incident-free relations. Within this reality, are there ways of taking measures which could create trust? That is the question to be addressed during the visits of Mr.Chidambaram and Mr.Krishna. Distrust between India and Pakistan has three components— the distrust between the general bureaucracies of the two countries, the distrust between the security bureaucracies, including the Army and the intelligence community and the distrust between the political leaderships.

12. The distrust between the political leaderships will be easier to break, provided the distrust between the bureacracies can be reduced. But,there is a vicious circle to be broken. The distrust between the political leaderships cannot be reduced unless that between the bureaucracies is addressed. The distrust between the bureaucracies cannot be reduced in the absence of trust between the political leaderships.

13. This calls for a beginning in the establishment of a network of relationships at various levels—political and bureaucratic—between the two countries. We have established such a network with China despite the continuing border dispute and despite our continuing distrust of the People’s Liberation Army of China. There has not even been an attempt to build such a network between India and Pakistan. Is it possible to build such a network? If so, how to go about it?What role the Interior Ministry of Pakistan and the Home Ministry of India can play in this exercise as the starting blocks? These are questions which should be discussed during the forthcoming interactions.

14. Our insistence on Pakistani action against the LET and Sayeed is legitimate and should be continued. But we shoulde not allow this to become an over-obsession which nullifies all ideas and intitiatives of a positive nature. Over-obsession with certain issues has become the bane of Indo-Pakistan relations. If the two countries, their leaderships and bureaucracies could rid themselves of these over-obsessions, they may realise that a strategic relationship for mutual benefit between the two countries is not such a stupid idea after all.

( The writer, Mr B.Raman, is Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt. of India, New Delhi, and, presently, Director, Institute For Topical Studies, Chennai, and also Associate of the Chennai Centre For China Studies. E-mail: )

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