Indo Pakistan relations have seen so many ups and downs that skeptics are likely to concentrate more on the cricketing contest in the World Cup Semi Final between the two countries in Mohali on 30 March than what may go on behind the scenes. Yet the invitation by the Indian Prime Minister Dr Man Mohan Singh to Pakistan’s president and prime minister to watch the ICC World Cup semi-final and its acceptance by Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani may provide some hope of positive developments in the days ahead.
With other initiatives also being taken simultaneously such as opening of a second gate on the Indo Pakistan border at Wagah-Attari in Punjab and extended stay of six months for those visiting Jammu and Kashmir from Pakistan Occupied Kashmir with multiple entries the movement for peace seems to be have gathered momentum. The latter is a move that the Indian side has taken unilaterally possibly based on the ongoing dialogue with the people of the State by mechanisms such as the interlocutors but will go a long way in creating a positive atmosphere in the days ahead.
The cricketing contest and diplomacy will be preceded by Home/Interior Secretary level talks in New Delhi on 28 and 29 March. Much capital is now being placed on the secretary level talks between India and Pakistan with both sides indicating that this may be the defining event given that the key issue is now terrorism, with related components of crime and drug trafficking within the paradigm of the home ministries.
Both sides are likely to come up with the familiar narrative of 26/11 Mumbai probe by the Indian side and Samjhauta blasts by the Pakistani side in which a number of Pakistani citizens were killed by suspects from right wing fundamentalist groups. There is unlikely to be any breakthrough in these cases given that domestic repercussions of any compromise by both sides may not be politically sustainable. But the importance of the event is reopening long suspended Indo Pakistan dialogue process and some notes may be exchanged by the Prime Ministers when they meet in Mohali possibly in a pow wow at the drinks break.
However the nay sayers are also active to vitiate the overall ambience of compromise. Hafeez Saeed, the India baiter has once again accused the Indian side of terrorist activities in Pakistan and brought Jammu and Kashmir in the debate in an event in Lahore. The significance of the strategic communication timed with the Home Secretary talks cannot be missed. Saeed is not likely to give up his efforts to put spokes in any peace process and hopefully his agents are not already active in the World cup venues be it Mumbai where the final will be held, Mohali or Colombo where the other semi final between Sri Lanka and New Zealand is being played.
In a warning in a meeting between Interpol Secretary General Ronald K. Noble and Pakistan’s Interior Minister Rehman Malik the possibility of terrorists targeting the cricket World Cup in the Sub Continent was highlighted. The live threat of the Pakistan Taliban extending their reach towards India has been flagged by the Interior Minster Mr Malik even as the high profile event of the cricket World Cup is ongoing in India. The India Pakistan Semi final in Mohali would be one of the main challenges now as the match is being played closer to the Pakistan border and thus would have some scope for deviants to carry out disruption. With Indo Pakistan talks set to begin starting with the interior minister, there are concerns that the elements opposed to the same may want to create a sensational event that would cause the links to be sutured.
On the whole it would be apparent that the threat dimension is generally pronounced when such an event is in the offing. Thus the Pakistani warning has been timely even as violence in the country itself has escalated and is therefore a cause of concern as well particularly in Karachi which is failing to die down due to politically supported assassination squads of all the parties.
What is in fact seen as a dangerous trend is the Lashkar-e-Taiyyaba having trained youth from Maldives and Afghanistan to carry out terrorist attacks during the World Cup. This would keep the Indian intelligence agencies who would be primarily tracking Pakistani citizens off guard while in case of a strike the focus will be away from Pakistan and the Lashkar. Thus it appears that the anti talks factions are also gathering their ammunition as the Prime Minister’s initiative to invite the Pakistani leadership to the cricket match in what is known as cricket diplomacy in the Sub continent fructifies.
What ever it be the initiative is well worth the risk that Dr Man Mohan Singh has taken for as India’s iconic cricket star Sachin Tendulkar goes for his 100th international century, there would be more at stake than that or a victory for either side, it is the beginning of a new phase in Indo Pakistan relations, and as they say, “well begun is half done.”