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India, Pakistan jump-starting relations?

January 14, 2010 00:36 IST

Two senior Union Ministers talking in two very different languages and tones on the same issue, that of Pakistan. Is the government deliberately sending out contradictory signals or are there two lines of thinking within the government on whether to hold out the olive branch to Pakistan?

Is the Indo-Pak ice melting after Mumbai 26/11 terror attack? This is the interesting question doing the rounds with Foreign Minister S M Krishna having a telephonic conversation with his Pakistani counterpart Makhdoom Shah Mehmood Qureshi and exchanging New Year greetings a full 13 days after the new year began.

On the other hand, Defence Minister A K Antony while voicing serious concern says that incidents of infiltration have gone up in the last year and this he attributes to forces across the border who he says are "jittery" at the return of normalcy in Jammu and Kashmir.

The talk between Krishna and Qureshi was basically on humanitarian lines with the Indian Foreign Minister thanking the Pakistani minister for releasing 100 fishermen though around 500 are still in captivity along with some 400 boats, which are in Pakistani possession. India has sought the process of the release of these too to be expedited.

Krishna also brought up the issue of the progress of trial of those involved in the Mumbai terror attacks and reminded the Pakistan foreign minister of the need to take effective steps to dismantle terror set up in the country and bring to justice the perpetrators of numerous attacks carried out against India.

This was probably the first warm exchange on a cold winter morning between the two sides since the Mumbai terror act when relations between the two sides had been frozen leading to a huge stand off.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's attempts at Sharm-al-Sheikh to re-initiate the Indo-Pak dialogue had been frowned upon up the congress party leading to the government falling back on the time tested line that there can be no composite dialogue between the two sides till Pakistan abjures violence and does not allow its land for terrorist activities against India.

Civil Society and NGOs from both sides, many of them with the backing of the establishment of their countries, have been making a push for restarting the dialogue process and this has intensified of late with the leaders of the two countries to meet in Bhutan for the SAARC meeting in April end.

Foreign ministry officials say that they have to work at breaking the ice before the Bhutan meeting. In addition to this, there is also a great deal of pressure from the United States on India to give the dialogue process another chance.

So while the government looks to be working on breaking the ice, it appears to also be in the mood to continue voicing its doubts and concerns as far as Pakistan is concerned, with Antony spelling out his fears that "inimical forces across the border are jittery" as they saw normalcy returning to Jammu and Kashmir.

He said that in 2009 violence had come down as opposed to 2008, but at the same time compared to 2008, attempts at infiltration had gone up in 2009. He said that if the situation continues like this, J&K will fast return to normalcy, but "terrorist forces will not allow that".

The defence minister has asked the security forces in the state to be more vigilant against infiltration and warned the state government to be prepared to face serious threats at any time this year, particularly in January.

Within the government, there are varying viewpoints on how far to go in beginning the dialogue process with Pakistan. Home Minister P Chidambaram an advocate of a tough approach towards Pakistan has been taking and talking the tough line while there are officials in the PMO who feel that India cannot afford not to talk to Pakistan for too long.

The call by Krishna to his counterpart from across the border is being viewed in political circles as a trial balloon by the Manmohan Singh government to test the waters and gauge the reactions and depending on the reactions, more such initiatives may be planned in the days ahead.

Renu Mittal in New Delhi