Minister for External Affairs S M Krishna's three-day visit to Pakistan comes in the wake of visits by Foreign Secretary Nirupama Rao (June 24) and Home Minister P Chidambaram (June 25 and 26).
Rao's visit was used to prepare the ground for the two ministerial visits to follow.
Chidambaram's visit -- mainly to attend the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation's home ministers' conference, but utilised for bilateral interactions too -- kept the focus on Pakistani action against anti-India terrorism in general and against Pakistan-based conspirators of the Lashkar-e-Tayiba who were involved in the 26/11 terrorist strikes in Mumbai in particular.
Chidambaram and his Pakistani counterpart Rehman Malik avoided acrimony and kept the accusatory reflexes, which usually distort Indo-Pakistan interactions, under control. The visit provided an opportunity for a courtesy meeting between the heads of the Intelligence Bureaus of the two countries, which had a common origin under British rule and closely resemble each other in their structure and methods of functioning.
The two are essentially organisations of police professionals who are experts in the collection and analysis of intelligence relating to internal security.
The last meeting between senior officers of the two Intelligence Bureaus was when Rajiv Gandhi was prime minister between 1984 and 1989. He and the late Zia-ul Haq, then the ruler of Pakistan, had set up a mechanism for regular half-yearly meetings between the home/interior secretaries of the two countries to discuss trans-border terrorism and security. Senior officers of the two IBs were among the officials in the two delegations.
This mechanism fell into disuse after the outbreak of Pakistan-backed insurgency in Jammu & Kashmir in 1989.
Chidambaram's discussions with Malik, as reported in the media, focussed on tactical issues relating to co-operation in the investigation and prosecution of the Lashkar conspirators.
Matters of a strategic significance like the utility of the revival of the pre-1989 mechanism for half-yearly meetings, structured interactions between the home/interior ministries of the two countries and mutual legal assistance between the investigating agencies of the two countries did not appear to have been discussed.
There was not even an invitation by Chidambaram to Malik and his intelligence chief to visit India. It was a one-shot visit with one-shot discussions, which did not try to create the traditions for such visits and discussions on a regular basis.
Unless we create such traditions, the political leaders and officials of the two countries will find it difficult to rid themselves of the constant air of suspicion which envelopes bilateral relations like the winter fog in New Delhi and to slowly rid themselves of the accusatory reflexes which come in the way of a professional approach to security-related problems.
What stands in the way of normal relations between India and Pakistan as two neighbouring States with a common border is not just the Kashmir issue or Pakistan's use of terrorism against India. It is the negative reflexes created in our minds by the riots which accompanied Partition in 1947, by Indian anger against Pakistan for its repeated use of terrorist or insurgent surrogates against India in the North-East, Punjab and J&K, and by Pakistani anger against India for our role in assisting the freedom struggle in Bangladesh.
Unless the two countries rid themselves of these negative reflexes and develop a new mindset marked by at least partly positive rather than overwhelmingly negative perceptions of each other, nothing is going to help in bringing them together.
Back-channel discussions, academic interactions, be-good-to-each-other meetings will not help so long as the reflexes are overwhelmingly and compulsively negative. Turning the negative into positive has to be a gradual process.
The starting block of such a process has to be a realisation at the decision-making levels in the two countries that we have far too long been negative in our thinking and perceptions.
The realisation alone will not be sufficient. It has to be followed by painstaking efforts for setting up institutional networking at various levels on both sides -- at the ministries of external affairs, home affairs and defence; and between the two sides' army, intelligence, and police -- so that policy-makers of the two countries are able to pick each other's brains through personal interactions and are able to judge each other in flesh and blood instead of through source and media reports.
How do we rid ourselves of these reflexes, and how do we make a beginning in setting up such a network? That should be the question which Krishna and his Pakistani counterpart Shah Mahmood Qureshi should address when they meet in Islamabad on Thursday. They could consider setting up a joint 3 plus 3 (foreign minister, defence minister, home minister) group or council to meet regularly to discuss the strategic aspects of the bilateral relations. This could be the substitute for the composite dialogue process which has run out of steam.
Instead, if they spend their time throwing Indian dossiers on terrorism and Pakistani dossiers on Kashmir and river waters at each other, they will be missing an opportunity for creating a possible and much-needed turning point in Indo-Pakistan relations.
To repeat one of my recent observations, Indo-Pakistan relations have become like an old gramophone record of our grandparents' vintage in which the needle has got stuck. It is time to look for a new and better record.