Subtle progress

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Measured tones Prime Minister Manmohan Singh (left) with President Asif Ali Zardari in Russia
Photo: PIB/BM MEENA

IF PARANOIA has a bottom then analysts in Pakistan and India have still to find it. Dr Manmohan Singh’s public statement at the beginning of his talks with President Zardari in Yekaterinburg, that he had come with a limited mandate to discuss “how Pakistan can deliver on its assurances that its territory will not be used for terrorist attacks on India”, was widely seen in Pakistan as an unprecedented public rebuke to its President. Writing in Outlook, Mariana Baabar described it as an “action typical of a regional bully”. Since bullies become sycophants when they confront superior power, she felt few qualms in concluding that “behind the salvo, India was eating humble pie”.

The truth is very different. Dr Singh’s opening statement is not unprecedented. The very first remark he made to President Musharraf in New York in 2004 was that while his government did not have the mandate to redraw the borders in Kashmir, he was open to any solution that avoided having to make a commitment that he could not fulfil. The difference between then and now is that he made the former remark in private, but the latter in public. The reason has nothing whatever to do with placating the Americans, humiliating Pakistan or playing to an Indian gallery. Dr Singh’s change of tactics is a response to a profound change in Pakistan. In 2004, both civilian and military power was in General Musharraf’s hands. Today, Pakistan is ruled by a dyarchy. Civilian aspects of governance are in the hands of its elected government but the army has control over everything to do with national security.

Dr Singh knows perfectly well that Pakistan’s civil society and its elected government were not behind the attacks on the Indian embassy in Kabul and the commando-style attack on Mumbai. He signalled this by delegating the discussion of terrorism to the two foreign secretaries and devoted his 45-minute private talk with Mr Zardari to a wide-ranging exploration of other aspects of India-Pakistan relations, including the common threat that both countries face from the rise of the Taliban.

But Dr Singh also knows that the ISI had a hand in both the attacks. His opening remark was, therefore, aimed at Pakistan’s security establishment. It was a warning, given in the only way consonant with his commitment not to intervene in Pakistan’s internal politics, that if Pakistan’s army and civilian government did not see eye to eye on future relations with India, it would be difficult to make any substantial progress towards normalising relations and resolving outstanding issues.

Baabar’s accusation that Dr Singh was bullying Pakistan by laying down preconditions in public is also wide off the mark. Dr Singh has been drawing a distinction between the Pakistan government and terrorists operating from Pakistan from the very first day of the Mumbai attack. India’s stand began to harden only when the Pakistan army chief forced Zardari to withdraw his initial offer of cooperation, and telephone intercepts and Qasab’s interrogation revealed the ISI’s involvement. Only then did India make concrete action against the handlers of the terrorists in Pakistan a precondition to the normalisation of relations.

The PM’s remark was a warning that both civilian and military Pakistan have to agree to a détente with India

But that phase of our relations has passed. Speaking in Parliament, Dr Singh quietly dropped the specific pre-condition that Pakistan should punish at least some of the perpetrators of 26/11 and made the resumption of normal relations contingent upon Pakistan living up to its assurance in the future. “I expect the Government of Pakistan to take strong, effective and sustained action to prevent the use of their territory for the commission of acts of terrorism in India or against Indian interests and use every means at their disposal to bring to justice those who have committed these crimes in the past, including the attack on Mumbai. I believe that such actions will be welcomed by the people of both countries”.

Far from being a coercive demand, this is the bedrock of good relations between neighbours. Dr Singh could hardly have failed to notice that seven months have passed since the Mumbai attack without a single terrorist episode in India. After a single concerted effort by around 25 Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) cadres, which was foiled by the security forces, there has also been virtually no infiltration into Kashmir. All that Dr. Singh is asking of Pakistan is that it continues to take whatever action it is already taking, so that the peace prevails.

Back-channel talks covering all issues including Kashmir and Afghanistan may be resumed

NEW DELHI needs reassurance on this score because for more than three years, as India and Pakistan inched closer to an agreement on Kashmir and an opening of their international borders to trade and transit, terrorists of both the green and the saffron variety did all they could to frustrate the peace process. In 2006, just when Dr Singh was finalising a return visit to Islamabad, fidayeen belonging to the LeT made an abortive bid to attack an RSS training camp in Nagpur where more than a thousand senior cadre were attending a summer camp. Only weeks later, another large group exploded more than half a dozen bombs on suburban trains in Mumbai, claiming more than 200 lives. Fanatics belonging to an organisation calling itself Abhinav Bharat (no relation to a charitable trust with the same name) exploded bombs in Muslim places of worship in Malegaon and Hyderabad and blew up a bogey of the Samjhauta Express.

Delhi knows that even with the best will in the world, Islamabad may not be able to prevent each and every attack on India. But what India needs is to feel reassured that Islamabad is doing its best. Only tangible signs of wholehearted cooperation between Pakistan’s government and the Army will provide this assurance.

Notwithstanding Dr Singh’s initial caveat, the meeting with President Zardari has opened the gates for the resumption of talks on outstanding issues. The fact that the two leaders spoke for 45 minutes shows that they covered a substantial amount of ground. The precise contents of the talks are not known but there is reason to believe that back channel talks may be resumed and that they may now cover not only Kashmir but also a wider range of issues, including Afghanistan.

India, for its part, is keen to resume the Manmohan- Musharraf dialogue on Kashmir of two years ago. Delhi feels that the time is propitious because every political party and formation in Kashmir is asking for it. From Omar Abdullah to Mirwaiz Umar Farooq, Kashmiris are unanimous that the time has come to repeal the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act, thin out the security forces on the ground and move ahead swiftly on the lines chalked out by Manmohan and Musharraf in 2006-07. In a recent visit to Srinagar, Home Minister P Chidambaram conceded that the role of maintaining peace could be handed back in stages to the Jammu and Kashmir Police.

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