New Delhi: Mutual suspicion has stalled an India-Pakistan hotline proposed to help the neighbours share intelligence on terrorism and reduce a perceived trust deficit.
The hotline was one of the confidence building measures listed in a joint statement issued after the first round of talks between home secretaries of the two countries in March. India had suspended talks with Pakistan after terrorists from the banned militant outfit Lashkar-e-Taiba killed 160 people in November 2008 in Mumbai.
No headway has been made towards setting up the hotline, with the Indian and Pakistani governments spurning each other’s proposal for setting up a secure communication line. Officials familiar with the situation said mutual suspicion that the system could be bugged had held up the proposal.
Bharat Sanchar Nigam Limited Bhavan Photo by Ramesh Pathania/Mint
“Now a common ground is being explored where both countries would agree for a common technology and mutually shared codes,” a high-ranking government official said on condition of anonymity.
Another senior government official, who too spoke on condition of anonymity, said state-owned Bharat Sanchar Nigam Ltd (BSNL) had been ordered to lay the communication line some days ago. “Now it is up to BSNL to contact its counterpart in Pakistan and finalize how they would connect with each other,” the official said. “There is no time frame to complete the work.”
The official said it was unlikely that hotline would be operational before the next round of talks between home secretaries. The talks will be held any time after the winter session of Parliament.
“We have to postpone talks due to winter session. Fresh dates will be decided soon,” the first official said.
According to officials, a hotline will be handy in case of a terrorist attack in either country and help defuse potential tensions. India in the past has often blamed Pakistan’s spy agency Inter-Services Intelligence for terrorist attacks in the country. A similar hotline exists between the prime ministers of the two countries.
The two countries decided that both would send judicial commissions to probe and record statements of people associated with the November 2008 Mumbai terror attack, but no dates have been finalized. India and Pakistan are still to reach an agreement on relaxing visa rules for their citizens.