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India-Pakistan talks: Futile quest for trust

By T P Sreenivasan
Last updated on: July 14, 2010 19:09 IST
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Foreign Ministers S M Krishna and Shah Mahmood Qureshi, who are meeting in Islamabad on Thursday, will find it hard to create trust without resolving the differences between the two nations, feels former diplomat T P Sreenivasan.

Paul, the octopus, is not needed to predict that the India-Pakistan diplomatic match this week will be a goalless draw. But the very fact that it is taking place is significant in itself and the players as well as the spectators will have gained some valuable experience for future rounds.

India-Pakistan parleys are but episodes in a never ending game without winners or losers. The play, however, is the thing.

The agenda that Prime Ministers Manmohan Singh and Yusuf Raza Gilani have set for their foreign ministers is nebulous enough to defy any measurement of success. After trying out various formulations of a more concrete nature, they asked their ministers to remove the trust deficit between India and Pakistan.

Nothing is more difficult to accomplish than building trust between two neighbours born out of distrust.

The strongest argument for the creation of Pakistan was that Hindustan, the undivided India, could not be trusted to take care of the Muslims of the subcontinent. If trust breaks out between them, the whole rationale for the existence of Pakistan will be called into question.

Distrust of India is the one thing that fuels Pakistan nationalism, and the people of India are in no mood to trust Pakistan either.

It will be difficult for Foreign Ministers S M Krishna and Shah Mahmood Qureshi to find a way to begin building trust. After the first declarations of their desire to build trust and confidence, it is inevitable for them to move on to discuss what have been the causes of mistrust and proceed to remove them one by one.

With the tight brief that Minister Krishna has, he must immediately bring up the Mumbai terror attacks and say that the best way to restore confidence is for Pakistan to take decisive action against the perpetrators of the crime, who have gone scot free in Pakistan.

Minister Qureshi, with his reputation to call a spade a spade, must immediately bring up the core issue, Kashmir, without the resolution of which no trust is possible.

Minister Krishna is not known for emotional outbursts, but he will have sufficient material in his papers to counter that argument. How can he not tell his Pakistan counterpart a word or two about the most recent instances of Pakistan aiding and abetting terrorists in Jammu and Kashmir, requiring emergency deployment of the armed forces?

In other words, it will be difficult for either of them to keep the discussion at the conceptual level. The best they can do is to agree to disagree on these issues and move on to look for trust elsewhere.

Afghanistan will be a tempting topic to discuss to see whether some trust is possible to tackle this issue After all, both India and Pakistan are victims of terrorism and have a common interest in fighting it with their common friend, the United States.

Nothing will please the United States more than an understanding between India and Pakistan to keep the peace between them till the war on terror is won. But this discussion will not go far to restore confidence as both India and Pakistan have their own prescriptions for resolving the Afghanistan imbroglio.

Accusations about interference in Afghanistan will begin to fly within minutes and the two will soon forget the agenda -- building of trust. India can hardly forget the most horrendous breach of trust in the form of armed attacks against the Indian mission in Kabul.

Afghanistan is not the issue that can help create confidence.

The ministers may switch gears to discuss nuclear issues in search for trust. At least in Vienna, the two are bed fellows, together with Israel, since they have refused to subscribe to the Non-Proliferation Treaty. Why not strengthen confidence by finding ways and means to fight jointly against the discriminatory NPT?

They will soon realise that they might do better to resolve Kashmir and Afghanistan before trying their skills in reaching agreement on nuclear issues as sparks will soon fly about the deals the two have been making, one with the United States and the other with China. Except for their common distrust of the NPT, there is nothing in this department which will restore confidence.

Even India's non-first use doctrine has not created any confidence in the past and Pakistan makes no secret of the role of nuclear weapons as a force multiplier in any conflict with India. The news that Pakistan is adding to its nuclear arsenal, while holding up the negotiations on the Fissile Material Cut-off Treaty, will not create confidence either.

In a final effort to keep to their mandate, the ministers may move on to water, Siachen, Sir Creek, Wullar Barrage and the other elements of the composite dialogue in their quest for trust. Their foreign secretaries have come up with solutions to some of these in their innumerable rounds and there have been occasions when only the 'i's had to be dotted and the 't's had to be crossed.

But, alas, trust will be elusive here too as they will find that water is as explosive as nukes and that everything is tied to the core issue.

Not to give up hope, the ministers may turn to multilateral issues. As developing countries, the two have common positions on trade, environment and a number of social issues. Why not restate them and declare trust between our delegations in the United Nations?

Possible if Minister Qureshi is not horrified at the prospect of working with India on the expansion of the Security Council. He must be seething with anger about the most recent signals from the United States about UN reforms.

The lesson India and Pakistan will learn from their quest for trust is that trust cannot be created out of nothingness. It may be better to deal with differences rather than pursue the illusion of trust.

What comes first, the chicken or the egg?

T P Sreenivasan is a former ambassador of India to the United Nations, Vienna, and a former Governor for India at the International Atomic Energy Agency, Vienna. He is currently the Director General, Kerala International Centre, Thiruvananthapuram, and a Member of the National Security Advisory Board.

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