Journalist | Writer | Analyst
If there is no progress now, relations may slowly deteriorate …
15 July 2009
India, Pakistan facing ‘last chance’ for dialogue
Sharm-el-Sheikh,(Egypt): The legal status of Lashkar-e-Taiba chief Hafiz Saeed is casting a malevolent shadow over crucial talks India and Pakistan will have here this week on the sidelines of the Nonaligned summit. And though a decision by the Supreme Court in Islamabad to reject the appeal against his release from preventive detention is unlikely to derail the possibility of the two countries breaking new ground, South Block sources say any Pakistani permissiveness towards individuals and organisations involved in inciting terrorism will place the bilateral relationship under strain in the long run.
Asked for their view of the Pakistan and Punjab government’s appeal now underway in Islamabad before Chief Justice Iftikhar Choudhary, the South Block sources told The Hindu they had no issue with the requirement that criminal action against the LeT chief be fully in accordance with the law of the land. But if a weak case is filed or presented, Islamabad cannot then hide behind the fig leaf of procedure, the sources felt.
Though unstated, there is another concern involved here. In a situation where Prime Minister Manmohan Singh is taking the lead in seeking a path towards renewed engagement with Pakistan, dismissal of the Saeed case is likely to be seized upon by those within the Indian establishment who still harbour doubts about the need for dialogue.
Indeed, what makes Sharm-el-Sheikh crucial for both sides of the debate is that it represents a ‘last chance’ at the resumption of normality. With Dr. Singh not attending the U.N. General Assembly session this year, the chance of another meeting with either President Asif Ali Zardari or Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani any time soon is low. And in the absence of any top-down forward movement — which is the only way India and Pakistan have overcome major problems in their relationship in the past few decades — bilateral ties will inevitably stagnate and even deteriorate.
If the Prime Minister is painfully aware of this pattern, he can also see the potential for change that Pakistan’s own internal troubles have generated.
In the wake of the terrorist attack on Parliament, Islamabad took only small steps like banning some terrorist organisations and declaring it would not allow cross-border attacks in response to India’s full-scale military mobilisation. And yet, the erstwhile Vajpayee government was prepared to take a big step like resumption of the composite dialogue.
Today, the Manmohan Singh government has the right to feel satisfied by how its strategy of flexible containment has paid richer dividends than Operation Parakram ever did. Islamabad has acknowledged for the first time that its soil was used to attack India. It has arrested key operatives of the LeT and announced it will try them. Separately, President Zardari has acknowledged that promoting terrorism was a part of state policy until recently. And the Pakistani armed forces are involved in a war against the Taliban near the Afghan border, even as the latter’s allies have responded by acts of terrorism in Punjab.
In their Yekaterinburg meeting last month, Mr. Zardari agreed to Dr. Singh’s proposal that the two foreign secretaries review the extent to which Pakistan has addressed Indian concerns on terrorism. That will happen now. But unless Sharm-el-Sheikh produces a broader agenda for the future, India is likely to experience diminishing returns.