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Taking Stock of Indo-Pak Relations
   
 
 
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Taking Stock of Indo-Pak Relations

 
Friday, 27 July 2012 09:06
 
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by Debidatta Aurobinda Mahapatra (EPOS)
EPOS Insights

 

This month developments in Indo-Pak relations indicate that the relations are not that bad despite myriad obstacles. This sentiment was reflected in the congratulatory message of Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari to India’s newly elected President Pranab Mukherjee on 25 July 2012. Zardari in his message wrote, "On behalf of the people of Pakistan and my own behalf, I wish to convey to you our heartfelt felicitations on your assumption of the office of the President of the Republic of India". More importantly in the context of bilateral relations, the message read, "It is imperative that our two countries endeavour to promote stability, peace and prosperity in our region and seek peaceful resolution of all issues through dialogue". Earlier this month Foreign Secretaries of both the countries met in New Delhi and Foreign Ministers of both the countries met in Tokyo to further take forward the relations.

As the New Delhi talks between the two foreign secretaries on 4th and 5th of July 2012 indicated, the relations between India and Pakistan appeared almost static without any concrete positive developments in sight. The two day meeting went on in expected lines with diplomats sticking to their positions, and the joint statement issued at the end of the meeting harped on the same formal statements usually found in Indo-Pak bilateral agreements. India despite the recent arrest of Abu Jundal (Indian citizen with Pakistani passport), who played a key role in Mumbai attacks of 2008, could not impress upon Pakistan the urgency to address the issue conclusively.

Despite all these setbacks, the diplomats of both sides did not play to the galleries by sounding hawkish as happened last year in Islamabad when then Pakistani Foreign Minister, Shah Mehmood Qureshi met his Indian counterpart S. M Krishna. This time around the politicians as well as diplomats played cautious while talking about the rivals. Though Indian Home Minister, P. Chidambaram called a press conference on the first day the diplomats met, his language appeared to be more logical than hawkish. Perhaps India aimed at capitalizing the recent developments after the arrest of Abu Jundal and establishment of his connections with Pakistan and his role in control room in Karachi. The Home Minister told the press, "It is no longer possible to deny that though the incident happened in Mumbai, there was a control room in Pakistan before and during the incident. Without state support, the control room could not have been established". The press conference of the Home Minister during the meeting of the diplomats also aimed at pressurizing the Pakistani delegation to move forward and announce something soothing to the Indian ear in the context of Pakistan’s response to terrorism targeted against India.

Both Pakistani and Indian diplomats emphasized the dialogue process and its importance for the continuing relations between the two countries. Pakistan’s Foreign Secretary Jalil Abbas Jilani highlighted the support the civilian establishment received from its leader, President Asif Ali Zardari, who is interested to boost relations between the two countries. Indian Foreign Secretary, Ranjan Mathai argued, "The Foreign Secretaries are mandated to discuss among other things peace and security, including CBMs. It is in this context that Foreign Secretary Jilani and I discussed all issues that impact peace and security between our two countries, including terrorism". Jilani argued, "Both the countries face threat of terrorism. We should intensify our cooperation". The joint statement reflected the standpoint of both the countries with formal and uncontroversial language, unlike the language used in joint statement issues at Sharm-el-Sheikh in 2009 after meeting of prime ministers of both the countries, which had created a furore in India. The joint statement issued on 5 July 2012 read, "The talks were held in a frank and constructive atmosphere. Both sides reiterated their desire to carry forward the dialogue process in a purposeful and result- oriented manner". On the issue of Jammu and Kashmir, the joint statement read, "The Foreign Secretaries had a comprehensive exchange of views on the issue of Jammu and Kashmir and agreed to continue discussions in a purposeful and forward looking manner with the view to finding a peaceful solution by narrowing divergences and building convergences". One of the noted daily of Pakistan Dawn, referring to sources, wrote "the talks had progressed on a positive trajectory, contrary to gloomy projections made by the media".

Some of the proposals discussed during the meeting were noteworthy. The proposal to shift heavy weapons from the border areas is undoubtedly a positive one. The border people live in an atmosphere of fear and intimidation on everyday basis. The removal of heavy weapons from border areas will address this fear and intimidation factor significantly. Besides, it will substantially add to the confidence building measures between the two countries. It may further motivate the two countries to take similar steps towards strengthening peace and stability in the region. Another proposal that came up during the meeting was to convey each other the incidents of nuclear disaster. This proposal has gained weight after the Fukushima disaster in Japan last year. As both the countries are nuclear weapon powers, with having tense relations enduring for decades, it appears crucial to communicate each other about safety aspect of their nuclear facilities.

During the meeting both the countries agreed to set up expert committees to further deliberate on these matters. The diplomats also discussed about the forthcoming foreign ministerial meeting between the two countries in September. Hence, it may appear nihilistic to say that the recent diplomatic talks did not achieve anything significant. Any small achievement must be capitalized in the bilateral relations between India and Pakistan. A decade earlier it was even hardly believable that Pakistan will grant Most Favoured Nation status to India. And now this is a reality.

In India-Pakistan relations things happen very slowly, may be slower than tortoise to put euphemistically. The relations are marked by distrust, contrary perceptions of history, and psychological misgivings. The recent survey by US based Pew Research Centre has revealed this distrust factor and how this distrust has been deeply ingrained in the psyche of common masses. The leaders play these factors to suit their perceived national interests. However, it may be safe to state India-Pakistan relations have been better that those were a decade or two ago. Undoubtedly, the relations during Zardari period are far better than the relations during Zia ul Haq period.  It was hardly imaginable two decades earlier that bus will run from Delhi to Lahore, the border in Kashmir will be opened for common people and for trade, and the civil society will be given reasonable freedom to carry forward the peace process. The image in media of Kashmir’s hard line leader Syed Ali Shah Gilani embracing Pak Foreign Secretary in New Delhi may appear disconcerting to peace lovers in India and Pakistan, but this development cannot be overemphasized. It appears customary for Pakistan’s politicians and diplomats to court the hardliners in Kashmir as its politics revolves around a different position on Kashmir.

Hence, the recent talks may not be labelled a game-changer in India-Pakistan relations, but it certainly played a cushion to carry forward the relationship. A miracle may not happen in breaking the logjam of decades, but certainly the relations can be moderated slowly and steadily in coming months and years. It may be expected that the forthcoming visit of Indian Foreign Minister S. M. Krishna to Pakistan in forthcoming September will yield some positive results and further strengthen bilateral relations.

 

Dr Debidatta Aurobinda Mahapatra is part of the research faculty at the Centre Eurasian Studies, University of Mumbai, India, and is a Transcend Media member

Last modified on Friday, 27 July 2012 10:04
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