India-Pakistan talks back on rails

The talks focussed on terrorism and nuclear and military confidence building measures. 

The talks between India’s foreign secretary Nirupama Rao and her Pakistani counterpart Salman Bashir, in the last week of June 2011, did not produce a major breakthrough. Nor were they expected to. However, the fact that these were viewed positively by both the sides and were described as ‘constructive and cordial’ in the joint statement shows some forward movement. 

This is because nothing more than the reiteration of known positions on the resolution of the J&K dispute and on the export of terrorism into India had been anticipated in both the countries. The talks focussed on peace and security, including terrorism and nuclear and military confidence building measures.

During the talks, India sought early closure on the trial of Pakistani terrorists who were involved in the planning and execution of the Mumbai terror strikes in November 2008 and pointed out that there cannot be any meaningful discussion on Kashmir under the shadow of the gun.

Calling for an end to the ‘shadow of the gun and the violence it has unleashed,’ Ms Rao expressed concern over continuing infiltration into Kashmir. She said at a joint press conference that the “ideology of military conflict should have no place in the paradigm of our relationship of the 21st century...Instead, this relationship should be characterised by the vocabulary of peace, all-round cooperation, growing trade and economic interaction.” 

Issue of terrorism

The issue of terrorism figured prominently in the joint statement as both countries recognised that terrorism posed a continuing threat to peace and security and they reiterated the firm commitment to fight and eliminate this scourge in all its forms and manifestations. Both the sides agreed to make efforts to expand trans-LoC trade, increase the frequency of the Srinagar-Muzzafarabad bus service and to examine the feasibility of starting a bus service between Kargil and Skardu. 

Discussions on CBMs included the forging contacts between the training establishments of the armed forces of the two countries, including India’s National Defence College and Pakistan’s National Defence University. New nuclear CBMs and measures for better coordination between India’s Coast Guard and Pakistan's Maritime Security Agency were also discussed. India had presented a draft agreement to prevent ‘situations at sea’ involving vessels of the two countries at a previous meeting. The Pakistani side agreed to examine the document. 

A suggestion for contacts between defence and security think tanks, including the holding of seminars and conferences, was also taken up for discussion. Both the sides agreed that hostile propaganda should not be allowed to cloud the relationship. The two countries decided to constitute a group of experts to discuss conventional and nuclear CBMs. 

Significantly, a few days after these talks, prime minister Manmohan Singh, while interacting with the editors of the print media, said he would visit Islamabad only when there was adequate progress in the India-Pakistan relationship. In his view, Pakistan has still not acted strongly enough against terror strikes emanating from its soil. However, he believed, “India should continue to talk and engage with Pakistan to solve outstanding issues.”

Unlike the frosty talks between India’s external affairs minister S M Krishna and his Pakistani counterpart Shah Mehmood Qureshi in 2010, the Foreign Secretary talks resulted in some positive outcomes. Krishna and Pakistan’s new foreign minister – to be appointed shortly, will meet in July 2011 and take up these issues where the two foreign secretaries have left. If they succeed in building on the gains made at Islamabad, the India-Pakistan rapprochement process will once again begin to gather momentum.

It is in India’s interest to engage Pakistan and provide its government all possible support that is practically feasible to help it fight the scourge of creeping Talibanisation. If allowed to spread unchecked in Pakistan, Talibanisation could creep across the Radcliff Line into western India and create another security nightmare for India. The situation that will arise from large-scale radical extremism is something Indian security forces are as ill-equipped to handle as the Pakistan army.

And, it is in Pakistan’s interest to stop harping on the Kashmir issue as a ‘core concern’ as it is a complex and relatively intractable challenge which will need a huge political investment and a long period of time to resolve satisfactorily. Neither country is as yet ready to take the plunge into those uncharted waters.