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Talks with Pak: Why India looks beyond terror

By Smita Prakash
July 06, 2010 17:12 IST
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When Indian External Affairs Minister S M Krishna visits Pakistan on July 15, he would be taking the next step on the road to reducing the trust deficit between India and its terror-vexed neighbour. 

The terms of engagement were more or less set when the Indian and Pakistani foreign secretaries met in Islamabad on June 26. India has consistently said that Pakistan needs to crackdown on anti-Indian terrorist groups operating in Pakistan, including those who masterminded and attacked Mumbai on 26/11.  

And now ten days before Krishna's visit, Pakistan has supposedly ordered a crackdown on 17 terrorist outfits including the Lashkar-e-Tayiba, which are mostly affiliated to hard-line Deobandi groups. 

The Amir of Jamaat-ud-Dawa, Hafeez Sayeed, meanwhile, has been put under the Exit Control List, for whatever that is worth. Where was the man going anyway? Seychelles maybe? And what does this Exit Control List mean?

Benazir Bhutto, Nawaz Sharif, and current Interior Minister Rehman Malik have also been on this list and they fled the country whenever they wanted to and returned when they struck deals with the political dispensation in Islamabad.

All that Pakistan has reportedly done is set up a task force to check on movements of members of 17 terror outfits and trace their accounts?  External Affairs Minister Krishna has stated that his forthcoming visit to Pakistan is indicative of India's political will to bridge the trust deficit with Pakistan, but it should amply demonstrate Islamabad's will to act against these groups.

Speaking to visiting Pakistani journalists, Krishna said, "Mumbai is a deep scar ... (Pakistan) must pursue those who were responsible for, conspired and perpetrated Mumbai."

Some of these journalists wrote that India was not ready to move beyond the Mumbai attacks and that there is no change in India's policy regarding Pakistan since 26/11.

They reported, "Terrorism was, is and will continue to remain the major concern for India." And "while the Indian side talks, however cautiously, about the possibility of an improvement in relations with Pakistan, it is difficult to see how any improvement is likely as long as they believe the Pakistan Army drives the state's policy on India and that the Pakistan Army is hostile towards India."

While this stand, as reported by Pakistani journalists, would not be surprising if it was accurate, the fact is India is looking beyond just terror.

That is the reason why talks have resumed between India and Pakistan in the first place despite the apparent mistrust regarding the influence of the Pakistan Army on its foreign policy.

If India was single-mindedly focused on terror then the foreign secretary level talks would never have taken place either in New Delhi or Islamabad because there was no action taken by Pakistan on LeT and JuD till then, other than verbal assurances.  

Meanwhile, former diplomats and journalists working on various back-channel talks between India and Pakistan have been pushing for an idea of insulating talks from terror incidents.

Recently, Rajya Sabha MP and former diplomat Mani Shankar Aiyer talked about ensuring an "uninterrupted and uninterruptible" dialogue between India and Pakistan in his column Constant or Composite. 

However, senior government officials dismissed the idea saying it was impossible for any government to commit to such an extent as to say that if ever there was another 26/11 like scenario India would continue to maintain the same level of interaction with Pakistan.

The fear of a major terror strike disrupting talks is one that dogs negotiators of both nations and it is one they have to factor in when they talk. There is no running away from it. 

While Pakistan thinks that India is being over cautious, even a trifle suspicious, while moving ahead with talks, India sees it as pragmatism.

The political dispensation has to balance several influence groups. The home ministry and its intelligence departments advise caution as their inputs show that the current escalation of violence in Kashmir has been instigated by the Pakistan based Lashkar-e-Tayiba.

Media and public opinion is wary to the point of fatigue regarding India-Pakistan issues. The back channels between the two countries are impatient with talks still not yielding results.  

Aiyar, an active track-2 member, makes an ambitious point in his essay when he says "substantive progress in the open composite dialogue combined with secret back-channel contacts between ambassadors Lamba and Tariq have moved matters so far forward that the composite dialogue should be brought to a constructive conclusion by negotiating agreed documents to be signed when the Indian Prime Minister visits Islamabad."

When is Dr Manmohan Singh going to Islamabad? Probably, only the back channel is aware of this development. Moreover, these documents should be made public and debated upon in different fora before the prime minister signs them. 

Meanwhile, Krishna will be facing a tough talking Pakistani side next week who will not hesitate to bring up issues they perceive as the core like "human rights violations in Kashmir, Sir Creek, blockade of water and Indian support to terror groups in Balochistan," said sources. 

Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureishi is unlikely to heed Pak-Occupied-Kashmir "Prime Minister" Raja Farooq Haider's advise to not link India-Pakistan negotiations to the Kashmir dispute.

Haider's opinion is that status quo should be maintained in Kashmir and Pakistan should deal with its own security challenges before venturing to solve the Kashmir issue.

This was not the right time for Pakistan to press for a Kashmir settlement. At the moment, he said, Pakistan was facing a formidable security challenge from the militants. However, Qureshi speaking in Multan, said, "We have raised our voice about the human rights violations there and we will continue to do so. When the Indian Foreign Minister comes here soon, that will be the proper occasion to direct his attention towards the incidents occurring in Srinagar and the (Kashmir) valley."

Kashmir is never off the table when it comes to India and Pakistan. Both sides are well aware of this. But will they set it aside for the time being to resolve other minor irritants and then move towards solving the bigger contentious issues remains to be seen.

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Smita Prakash
Source: ANI