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India wants to 'take charge' of dialogue with Pak

By Jyoti Malhotra
February 23, 2010 03:46 IST
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Terrorism will be a key focus in the upcoming foreign secretary-level talks between India and Pakistan on February 25, and though these talks are not being slated as the resumption of the 13-year-old composite dialogue process, the truth is that it will not be a one-off conversation either.

According to highly placed government sources, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has told the Foreign Office that he wants "India to take charge of the dialogue and not relinquish control to third parties."

That is why Foreign Secretary Nirupama Rao got in touch with the Pakistani side towards the end of January to restart the dialogue, the first time in 15 months. And that is why the forthcoming dialogue can become the start of a process, even if it is not dubbed the "composite dialogue" that was started 13 years ago when I K Gujral was prime minister.

Neither is the conversation going to be limited to "talk about talks," as was dubbed by Home Minister P Chidambaram in his interaction with journalists at the Indian Women's Press Corps last week, when he indicated that the dialogue could be superficial and limited to a photo-op.

Truth is, the Indian side has come around, once again, to the view that talks with Pakistan must go on, and that Delhi should use each of the conversations to express its views on terrorism or any other subject.

"The talks are not about love or betrayal, but a pragmatic conversation between India and Pakistan," Rao told Business Standard.

On top of the agenda will be a reiteration of the demand that Pakistani territory cannot be used for anti-India terror, and that Pakistan hand over voice samples of the Lashkar-e-Toiba militants India believes masterminded the Mumbai terror attacks, such as Zaki-ur Rahman Lakhvi, his deputy Mazhar Iqbal and Abdul Wajid, who are in Pakistani custody.

Other issues will also come up, including Afghanistan, as well as the recent beheading of two Sikhs in Pakistan's north-west frontier province.

Pakistan is likely to raise Kashmir, which has fallen off the international front-burner following the West's obsession with the Af-Pak frontier. Delhi will counter this by acknowledging the basic nature of the dispute, and point out that under former President Musharraf's administration, India and Pakistan had actually reached some understanding on this matter.

It is clear that the Prime Minister has decided to lead the resumption of the dialogue with Pakistan, ignoring the apprehensions of Chidambaram as well as Defence minister A K Antony, who is reportedly concerned that the dialogue will lead, down the line, to a settlement of the Siachen and Sir Creek issues, which the Army is said to have stalled for the last several years.

In fact, the PM will also use this dialogue resumption not only to stave off pressure from the US and other parts of the western world to talk to Pakistan, but also to point out to these interlocutors that for any real progress on the Pakistan front, India must also be involved in Afghanistan.

So far, the Americans have tended to acquiesce to the Pakistani army view that India cannot be a part of the solution in Afghanistan. The Americans as well as the rest of the international community acknowledge that this is "blackmail," but have also expressed helplessness to deal with the situation.

But government sources point out, India could, in fact, also employ reverse pressure. That is, talking to Pakistan on all issues, including terrorism, would mean that the US and other western nations would also do their bit by telling Pakistan that the fight against terrorism must indeed be fought on the Af-Pak frontier, and not on the east with India.

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Jyoti Malhotra in New Delhi
Source: source