Siddharth Varadarajan

Journalist | Writer | Analyst

Stage set for fresh engagement with Pakistan

From Mumbai to Yekaterinburg to Sharm-el-Shaikh, a new basis for India and Pakistan to pursue the peace process might finally be emerging…
13 July 2009
The Hindu

Stage set for fresh engagement with Pakistan

Siddharth Varadarajan

New Delhi: As the principal strategist behind recent moves India and Pakistan have made to restore some normality in their bilateral relationship, it is with a sense of satisfaction that Manmohan Singh begins a four-day visit to Paris and Sharm-el-Shaikh whose highlight will be a meeting with his Pakistani counterpart, Yousuf Raza Gilani, on the sidelines of the Nonaligned summit on July 16.

The Prime Minister’s search for a new Islamabad strategy began immediately after the elections. Senior officials familiar with his thinking said Dr. Singh sought an approach that would generate both increased incentives for Pakistan to deliver on its commitment to fight anti-India terror as well as greater opportunities for India to press ahead with those areas of the bilateral process which generate mutual equity.

Along the way, the Prime Minister had to join battle with sceptics within, many of whom warned against the ‘premature’ engagement of Islamabad, as well as hardliners in Pakistan who are still not reconciled to the fact that radical extremism and terrorism pose a greater existential threat to the future of the country than India.

And then there was a third obstacle: the accident-prone nature of the relationship.

By happenstance or design, the Lahore High Court freed Lashkar-e-Taiba chief Hafiz Saeed just when the Prime Minister had begun the internal process of making a case for reviving the peace process. And in Yekaterinburg, where Dr. Singh met with President Asif Ali Zardari, the Prime Minister’s inadvertent remarks before the media robbed that encounter of its potential benefits even before it started. The now famous statement about his mandate being limited to discussing terrorism was drafted by National Security Adviser M.K. Narayanan and was meant to be delivered in the presence of the two full delegations before the two leaders began their one-on-one. As soon as everyone was seated, the Prime Minister began speaking. But he didn’t notice the media was still in the room.

Fortunately, six decades of hostility has taught both sides to take such incidents in their stride. And they began a series of quiet official discussions to see if the minimum groundwork for a successful meeting in Sharm-el-Shaikh could be laid.

The Indian military attaches in Islamabad met with the ISI’s powerful chief, Lt. General Shujaa Pasha. Pakistan’s High Commissioner in Delhi Shahid Malik worked hard to convey India’s expectation of tangible, written evidence of progress in the Mumbai incident. Having spelt out their bottom line, Indian officials sat back and waited. First came the filing of an appeal against Saeed’s release. And on Saturday, Pakistan’s Interior Minister Rehman Malik went public with the perfectly timed decision of his government to press ahead with the trial of several LeT men for their role in the Mumbai case. On the same day, Prime Minister Singh, who had privately told journalists his Yekaterinburg remarks had been mistimed, publicly stated that he had not intended to snub Mr. Zardari.

When the Indian and Pakistani Foreign Secretaries meet on July 14, they will review these matters and report back to their principals. But where Dr. Singh has demonstrated a willingness to overrule sections of the intelligence and foreign policy establishment in pursuit of a fresh approach, the Pakistani political leadership does not enjoy the same freedom.

For that reason, the immediate resumption of the composite dialogue is not on the cards. The most likely outcome of Sharm-el-Shaikh is the two Foreign Secretaries being tasked with reviewing the overall structure of bilateral engagement.

3 comments on “Stage set for fresh engagement with Pakistan

  1. Ganesh
    July 14, 2009

    There was this old Indian king whose minister brought up a visha-kanya to kill his rival. He ended up killing his own king.. terrorist state of Pakistan has done something similar only instead of just one visha-kanya they have poisoned a substantial section of their own society in the hope of injuring India.

    Let the poison take effect..let us just make nice noises to keep this charade of 'peace talks' going and play the waiting game.

    It is not going to get us anywhere. It took the complete destruction of Germany to get rid of Nazism. Same goes for Imperial Japan. I guess same will have to be for Pakistan. They are doing a good job themselves about it….

  2. Laks Nukala
    July 13, 2009

    Is this engagement due to self interest or due to US pressure? How does the recent Pakistan offer to mediate with Mullah Omar or the G8 restriction of ENR play into these moves? Or for that matter the upcoming visit of Secretery Clinton – does this have any bearing ?

  3. I, Me, Myself !
    July 13, 2009

    I don't think the PM didn't “notice” the media in the room. It is hard not to notice them while they are there… I think this was a deliberate attempt to send out a very harsh message to Pakistan in the full glare of media people. No wonder Zardari cancelled his trip after being snubbed so publicly.

    However, this whole talking- not talking thing is just becoming a routine. Your optimism on these talks not withstanding, I don't see any constructive outcome emerging out from this visit.

    – Sudhir

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This entry was posted on July 13, 2009 by in Indian Foreign Policy, Pakistan, Terrorism.



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