SAARC Minnows Push
Indo Pakistan Rapprochement
Unbelievable it may seen but it was SAARC minnow Maldives which pushed the Prime Ministers of India and Pakistan to talk at Thimpu the venue of the 16th SAARC Summit, thus achieving what perhaps the most persuasive Barack Obama failed to do in Washington a few days back. Maldives President Mohamed Nasheed frankly stated in his opening remarks that the core problem of SAARC was Indo Pakistan rivalry which was holding the organization hostage. This theme was taken up on the sidelines as the grape vine has it by other proactive leaders, Sheikh Haseena and Hamid Karzai and the gentle Prime Minister of Bhutan, Jigme Thinley.
Egged on thus the Prime Ministers of India and Pakistan thus held, “very positive” talks. Pakistan Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi said, “It was a very positive meeting. A step in the right direction,” Qureshi said of the 90-minute meeting. India’s role in Afghanistan and the Balochistan did not figure in the talks. Indian Foreign Secretary Nirupama Rao said, “Balochistan was not raised to the best of my knowledge. Pakistan is well aware that India doesn’t seek to interfere in the internal matters of Pakistan.”
Going through the talks between Dr Man Mohan Singh and Prime Minister Gilani in a Press Conference on 29 April, Ms Rao indicated that all issues that cause concern to India, issues relating to terrorism, the rise in infiltration, and the slow progress in the trial of the Mumbai perpetrators were highlighted by the Indian Prime Minister. She called the meeting as, “an exercise in mutual comprehension because there is a lack of mutual trust in the relationship impeding the process of normalization”. The outcome is that Foreign Ministers and the Foreign Secretaries have been charged with working out modalities for trust building. This process is likely to start after 7 May that is the end of the parliamentary session in India. The theme appears to be trust building or as the Foreign Secretary said, “renewal of dialogue to understand the state of affairs in the relationship”.
As is usually the case, the SAARC summit was some what overshadowed by Indo Pakistan relations. While the Indian government wary of past experience of rapprochement when the Prime Minister came under flak domestically for agreeing to include Balochistan in the joint statement issued at Sharm el Sheikh was more cautious though the spirit of Sharm-el-Sheikh declaration continued, despite Islamabad’s failure to punish the perpetrators of 26/11. The Pakistan Prime Minister has given an indication that he would accelerate the process, the way events are shaping in that country and the relatively low clout that he has, this may not come about so soon.
Therefore it is apparent that the Indian side has possibly made a deliberate decision to allow the talks to go through without awaiting results of Pakistan’s judicial process. This time there is better political structuring of the rapprochement thus there was not much hype and the process was managed quietly till the last minute thereby not raising any road blocks to negotiations and also no joint statement was issued.
The response by Pakistan to the Indian dossier after the Foreign Secretary level talks in New Delhi came before the Summit and was timed to invite a positive reaction from India. Pakistan very cleverly corralled Dr Man Mohan Singh knowing his soft corner for talks. Thus Pakistani leaders lauded Dr.Singh's approach to resolve long pending issues by positive thinking. They also castigated negativity and political resistance in India which has led to shackles on Dr Singh which is the supposed cause for limited progress in the discourse. The Prime Minister’s appointment of Mr Shiv Shankar Menon who is pro talks as the National Security Advisor was also seen a step towards Indo Pakistan talks.
Some analysts also believe that Mr Gillani could talk with the Indian Prime Minister so boldly due to new found confidence after the 18th Amendment as well as his links with the Pakistan army which has greater trust in him than the President Mr Zardari. There is reason to believe that the Army may have approved the rapprochement with India. If that be so then the talks are likely to be caliberated with other formulations and most likely this is also due to pressure by the US. As far as India is concerned it does not matter who is holding the remote as far as there is a forward movement in the deliberations.
Despite the declaration of rapprochement and possibility of talks between Foreign Ministers of India and Pakistan there is a need for greater vigil as elements that are against talks particularly the Lashkar e Taiyyaba (LeT) and its support coterie in the Pakistani establishment is likely to do their utmost in ensuring that the move is scuttled. A terror attack is the perfect tool for these miscreants and therefore there is a need for additional vigilance in the days ahead. Now that the LeT has also got a local morph the Indian Mujahideen (IM), there are enough indications that the IM will be the main front and more terror attacks by this indigenous outfit are not ruled out.
On the other hand many believe that Dr Man Mohan Singh as well as Mr Gillani do not have enough political clout to see any major rapprochement through. While political reins in India are with Ms Sonia Gandhi, in Pakistan the India policy is decided by the Army and the ISI. So how the process finally leads to fructification of a tangible peace initiative remains to be seen.
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Col. Rahul K. Bhonsle
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