“India-Pakistan relations is off life-support. It’s breathing on its own now.” This observation by government sources captures the essence of the achievement of completing an entire A-Z round of talks between the two countries.
The modest deliverables of LoC trade and travel between the two Kashmirs should not be the focus. Instead, it is significant that since the resumption of dialogue, two terror attacks in India – Pune on February 13, 2010 and Mumbai on July 13, 2011 – did not derail the talks. On both occasions, India played a more mature game of not instantly assigning blame to Pakistan, which went a long way in smoothing the path between the two countries.
Pakistan therefore achie- ved a key tactical objective in its relations with India. The delinking of dialogue and terror attacks is almost complete, though the jury is still out on what India will do if a really big terror attack comes out of Pakistan-sponsored groups. This delinking was the core promise of the 2009 Sharm el-Sheikh joint statement which was overwhelmingly rejected by India then. Two years down the line, most of India is resigned to the fact that not talking to Pakistan does not mean less terror attacks.
On India’s part, the emphasis on confidence-building measures and people-to-people contact has prevailed. The visa regime is likely to be eased. Under the SAARC rubric, categories A and B will be exempted from visas throughout South Asia, including India and Pakistan. Pakistan is also likely to move to a negative list trade regime with India by October 2011, from the restrictive and mindless positive regime at present. That’s MFN by a different name, said government officials “but will smell just as sweet”.
Hina Rabbani Khar’s meeting with the Hurriyat was a nod to the power-brokers in Rawalpindi. It was avoidable and foreign minister S M Krishna did not mince his words about it. Pakistani sources later said not much should be read into those talks, and anyway, every visiting Pakistani dignitary met the separatists.
The Pakistani side too did not insist on “time-bound” talks on Kashmir which was the Pakistan army’s way of derailing the Krishna-Qureshi talks in July 2010. This time, Khar used language normally attributed to Mani Shankar Aiyar, when she said India-Pakistan talks should be “uninterrupted and uninterruptable”.
India offered to start talks on Afghanistan with the Pakistani side at the foreign-office level. But though Pakistani officials did not openly agree, sources said they haven’t junked it yet. On their side, Pakistan offered to start talks with India on multilateral and global issues, which would also expand the scope of the relationship. That would include the UN Security Council, where India holds the chair from August 1, as well as G20.
India has the harder task with Pakistan. As PM Manmohan Singh told Khar when she called on him, “We have to work for a normalized relationship.” Khar’s message to the PM was that the younger generation in Pakistan wanted better relations with India.
India has to help Pakistan walk back down from the limb it’s currently sitting on. Pakistan’s deteriorating relations with the US and the possibly larger role the Chinese may play inside Pakistan gives India a small window in which to set in place institutional contacts with the Pakistani establishment. The fact that Pakistan cannot go crying to the US against India any more may actually benefit the bilateral relationship because it can inject a measure of realism in the Pakistani establishment.
At some stage, India should think of a way to engage Pakistan’s army, because that’s where Pakistan’s India policy is crafted. Khar told the Indian delegation that she came with the full support of the civilian and military establishments in Pakistan.