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Reaching out to Pakistan

Reaching out to Pakistan
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First Published: Wed, Jun 17 2009. 10 57 PM IST

Photo: Mikhail Metzel / AP
Photo: Mikhail Metzel / AP
Updated: Wed, Jun 17 2009. 10 57 PM IST
Buoyed by the decisive mandate the ruling coalition received in the recent general election, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has set an ambitious agenda for his government. His primary focus is reviving economic growth through increased infrastructure investment and substantive financial sector reforms. But equally important, Singh is trying to set out a coherent Pakistan policy.
Addressing Parliament on 8 June, Singh indicated India was ready to “try again to make peace with Pakistan”. He called on Islamabad to “bring to justice” those responsible for the terrorist attack in Mumbai last November. He added: “I expect the government of Pakistan to take strong, effective and sustained action to prevent the use of their territory for acts of terrorism on Indian territory, or against Indian interests.” (The reference to “Indian interests” was a nod to the attack on the Indian embassy in Kabul, which was carried out in July by elements of the Taliban based in Pakistan.)
Photo: Mikhail Metzel / AP
Washington, too, has an obvious interest in seeing that India Pakistan tensions do not get out of hand. It would like Pakistan to remain focused on military action against the Taliban on its western frontiers with Afghanistan. The Barack Obama administration also knows that another major terrorist attack on India from across its borders would provoke a strong Indian response. The US has told Islamabad that it has a “special responsibility” to act immediately and firmly against those responsible for the Mumbai attack and bring them to justice.
The last years of former president Pervez Musharraf’s rule saw considerable improvement in the India-Pakistan relationship. A ceasefire across the Line of Control (LoC) in Jammu and Kashmir was agreed upon in November 2003.
Subsequent dialogue led to wider contacts and the resumption, after half a century, of trade and travel across the LoC. “Back-channel” negotiations between India and Pakistan from 2005 to 2007 came close to producing an innovative solution to the Kashmir issue.
The settlement envisaged grant of extensive autonomy on both sides of the LoC, with this line dividing the state becoming “irrelevant” in the course of time—by free movement of people, goods, services and investment across it. With declining violence, there would be a phased reduction of forces that now face one another and representative institutions set up for promoting trade, travel, tourism and cooperation on issues such as health, environmental protection and education. Singh and former Pakistani foreign minister Khurshid Kasuri have acknowledged that they were close to reaching a solution in 2007.
While Pakistan calls for immediate resumption of the dialogue process, New Delhi has been cautious. The Indian public remains outraged by the brazen Mumbai terrorist attack of 26 November. Singh would face severe criticism if further terrorist attacks took place once the dialogue process resumed.
New Delhi also believes that though a civilian government ostensibly rules Pakistan, the Pakistani army has a preponderant say in relations with Afghanistan and India. This is evident from the fact that foreign dignitaries visiting Pakistan invariably seek a meeting with army chief General Ashfaq Pervez Kayani, without bothering to call on his direct boss, defence minister Ahmed Mukhtar.
Whether the Pakistani army establishment can be associated with the dialogue process with India is a question to be considered. Most importantly, demonstrable action by Pakistan to bring those responsible for the Mumbai outrage to justice will facilitate early resumption of dialogue.
India is also cautious because of perceived divisions within the Pakistani government. New Delhi senses there are differences between President Zardari on the one hand, and Prime Minister Yusuf Gilani and the foreign office and intelligence establishment on the other, on issues ranging from trade and economic relations with India to the resumption of the stalled dialogue process on Jammu and Kashmir. The indications are that Islamabad, led by the army establishment, would like to repudiate what was agreed upon in earlier “back-channel” negotiations.
To resume the formal dialogue process, careful behind-the-scenes preparatory work would be necessary. This week, there has been occasion for President Zardari and Prime Minister Singh to exchange views at the summit of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization in Yekaterinburg, Russia, and they could also meet during the forthcoming summit of the Nonaligned Movement in Egypt in July. These meetings could help address existing doubts and differences.
In the meantime, India could make some unilateral gestures to promote people-to-people contacts and ties between civil society organizations. The people of India and Pakistan both stand to benefit if this process goes well.
THE WALL STREET JOURNAL
G. Parthasarathy is a visiting professor at the Centre for Policy Research in New Delhi, and was India’s high commissioner to Pakistan from 1998 to 2000. Comments are welcome at theirview@livemint.com
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First Published: Wed, Jun 17 2009. 10 57 PM IST