Monday, May 31, 2010




    Addressing a press conference in Delhi, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said that India is making a new beginning for peace with Pakistan. Dr Singh was however not quite sure if his peace initiative would work. Going by past record, it is unlikely that the latest peace moves will succeed. The last few initiatives for a sustained and meaningful India-Pakistan political dialogues have tended to follow a boringly predictable trajectory: successive Indian Prime Ministers, with an eye on posterity but without any sense of timing or even appreciation of ground realities, reach out to Pakistan, which as it subsequently turns out, duplicitously grabs the 'hand of friendship'; the two sides start engaging each other but without either side having any new idea to break the logjam; soon the Pakistanis run out of patience and there is invariably a spectacular incident – Kargil after Lahore bus diplomacy, Parliament attack after Agra summit, 26/11 after the resumption of the Composite Dialogue process – that effectively kills the peace initiative, until next time, when the cycle repeats itself.

    This time around, the buzzword, or if you will 'core issue', is 'trust deficit', which according to the Indian PM is the biggest problem between the two countries. While the Indian side maintains that the foreign ministers' dialogue will focus primarily on bridging the trust deficit, the Pakistanis are crowing about how the Composite Dialogue is back on track, albeit under a different nomenclature and perhaps a different structure. To the extent that when two countries enter into a political dialogue, a host of issues of interest to either side – including terrorism for India and Kashmir, water and alleged Indian involvement in Balochistan for Pakistan – will be discussed between them, it might be termed as a return to the Composite Dialogue. But without a structured dialogue on the sectoral tracks that form part of the Composite Dialogue, India can always claim that it has continued to hold out on the Composite Dialogue process. Although chances of any breakthrough appear very dim, the two sides will probably agree on some sort of a road map for continuing the dialogue at the political and bureaucratic level. Without such an agreement, the initiative will be declared a failure, something that both sides would like to avoid.

There is a body of opinion which feels that with the US dragging the two countries by their noses to the dialogue table, there are good chances of a breakthrough. But there are limits to how much the even the US can push India and Pakistan. In any case, the US is mistaken if it thinks that improved atmospherics between India and Pakistan will allow Pakistan to shift its focus from the eastern to the western border. If this didn't happen during the 2004-2008 period when relations between India and Pakistan were the most relaxed in decades, it is unlikely to happen now when the two sides have barely started trying to put together another peace process.

In order to kick-start the dialogue, the Indian Foreign Minister S.M. Krishna's has indicated his willingness to 'trust' Pakistan on the issue of terrorism. This 'trust' however flies in the face of a flood of reports about how the jihad factory in Pakistan against is once again back in business. There is also rock-solid intelligence about the involvement of Pakistani intelligence agencies in directing attacks against Indians in Afghanistan. Recent incidents of attacks on Indians in Afghanistan – the targeting of Indian consulate staff in Jalalabad being a case in point – are being kept under the wraps, lest the political environment gets sullied before the talks. But this pusillanimous attitude will become politically unsustainable as soon as terrorist strikes take place in India.

Worse, in keeping with the proclivity of Indian leaders to provide an alibi for their Pakistani counterparts, Mr Krishna has explained away Pakistan's failure to take credible action against terrorists operating against India by blaming it on Pakistan's 'fiercely independent' and 'assertive' judiciary. Needless to say, Mr Krishna seems to have turned a blind eye to the quality of evidence, or rather the lack of it, which the Pakistani authorities presented against the LeT chief, Hafiz Saeed. Small wonder then that Indian foreign office could do little except mumble a rather apologetic 'disappointment' on the release of Hafiz Saeed by the Supreme Court of Pakistan.

Perhaps all this reflects the lack of trust that Dr Manmohan Singh has been talking about. But then the big question is how the two sides propose to bridge this trust gap and reach that level of confidence in each other which allows them to 'move to substantive negotiations'? Clearly, the sort of cosmetic Confidence Building Measures (CBMs) that have been undertaken so far are not going to help. If truth be told, the CBMs between India and Pakistan have done everything except build confidence between the two sides. The problem, however, is that neither side seems to have figured out what it thinks it must and can do to gain the trust of the other side. It is not even clear if, short of their maximalist positions, either side has worked out the building blocks that it thinks the other side must bring on the table to bridge the trust deficit. There is also a degree of befuddlement in official circles over the reasons for keenness being displayed by either side for resuming the dialogue, as also what the other side hopes to achieve from the dialogue.

As things stand, nothing short of India disbanding its army and handing over Jammu and Kashmir to Pakistan is likely to end Pakistan's self-created and self-serving paranoia of India, much less satisfy the Islamists who dominate the Pakistan army and polity. On India's part, unless Pakistan dismantles the jihad factory operating against India, renounces its irredentist claims on Jammu and Kashmir, reforms its educational curriculum which indoctrinates children with the most obnoxious sort of stereotyping of Hindus in particular and non-Muslims in general, and most of all, ends the pernicious influence of the army and intelligence agencies on the affairs of state, it is unlikely that India will develop any trust in Pakistan. What are the chances of any of this happening?

Theoretically, the impasse can be broken by some bold, out of the box initiatives that lead to a paradigm change in their bilateral relationship. But this is a catch-22 situation: without trust, bold initiatives are not possible, but how do you build trust without bold initiatives. The lack of public and political support in India for re-engagement with Pakistan, and vice-versa, will inhibit the two governments from deviating too much from their stated national positions. There are also serious questions over whether the current Pakistani government is a credible interlocutor. Dr Singh seems to believe that Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani's position has strengthened after the passage of the 18th Amendment in Pakistan. But the reality is completely different.

The civilian government is merely a show-boy when it comes to Pakistan's India policy. It dances to the tune played by the Pakistan army, which remains implacably and inveterately opposed to India. In other words, the civilians in Pakistan are in no position to deliver on any deal they strike with India, which in turn means that this initiative will ultimately end up like its predecessors – in the dustbin of history.


    <1230 Words>                    31st May, 2010



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