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India-Pakistan Talks:PUSH ON BUILDING CONFIDENCE, by Poonam I Kaushish, 30 Mar, 11 Print E-mail

Round The World

New Delhi, 30 March 2011

India-Pakistan Talks


By Monish Tourangbam

Research Scholar, School of International Studies (JNU)


Irrespective of the result of the Indo-Pakistan World Cup semi final clash at Mohali and regardless of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and his Pakistani counterpart Yusuf Raza Gilani’s conversations during and post the match, the stalled India-Pakistan talks have resumed with a positive note.


Amidst the usual jingoism and over-blown patriotism associated with any India-Pakistan match, along-with the sweeping symbolism of what has been termed as “cricket diplomacy”, a more hardcore political meeting took place during the India-Pakistan Home/Interior Secretary level talks in New Delhi led by India’s Home Secretary Gopal Pillai and Pakistan’s Interior Secretary Qamar Zaman Chaudhary.  


Undoubtedly, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh scored some symbolic brownie points by inviting his Pakistani counterpart to watch the cricket match, but it was really important for the Home Secretaries’ level talks to take-off on an enthusiastic note and it actually did. The successful conclusion of the meeting cements the kind of enthusiasm that was exuded in Thimpu earlier this year when the Foreign Secretary Nirupama Rao met her Pakistani counterpart Salman Bashir on the sidelines of the Standing Committee meeting of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC).


The recent meeting should come as a breath of fresh air given the not-so healthy Foreign Ministers’ meeting in Islamabad July last and the diplomatic spat between the two neighbours that continued later in the year at the UN over the Jammu and Kashmir issue. Clearly, the ugly shadows of the 26/11 attacks have loomed large over any chances of a thaw in India-Pakistan relations and justifiably so.


The wounds of the attacks are still fresh in Indian psyche and the intransigence of the Pakistani Government so far in prosecuting and punishing those responsible for the heinous attacks have been the game-spoiler. But the recent talks have produced some evidence that maybe things might brighten up in the near future and probably, the Pakistani Government is ready for a handshake, if not for an embrace.


It is hard to be optimistic when it comes to the question of India-Pakistan talks because many a time, the complexity of the issues involved, the sentimentality attached to them and the vested interests of some sections of the Pakistani Establishment in sustaining India as its No.1 enemy have more than often killed chances of any major breakthrough or have jeopardized them if there were any chances either.


However, this time around, it will be a good confidence building measure from both sides to be a little optimistic and expect something good out of what has been delivered by the recent meeting.


With an eye towards preventing any misunderstanding between the two Governments regarding the issue of terrorist threats, and as an effort towards putting some meat into the two country’s counter-terrorism cooperation, both sides decided to set up a hotline between the Indian Home Secretary and Pakistan’s Interior Secretary to facilitate real time information sharing with respect to terrorist threats.


Clearly, the issue of the Mumbai attacks is not a one-time isolated case of terrorist attacks for India. Terror attacks planned and hatched across the border have tormented Indian security for years and put insecurity and fear in the minds of the people. Hence, there can be no better confidence building measure from the Pakistani side than to try and close the “trust gap” that exist between the two countries when it come to the question of the Pakistan Government’s resolve in fighting India-centric terrorism.


Besides, the talks have shown some positive energy on some major issues, including the 26/11 case and one needs to wait and watch as to how they are implemented. During the meeting, the Pakistani side was reported to have provided updates on the on-going trial and investigation in Pakistan on the Mumbai terror attacks. According to sources, Islamabad has conveyed its readiness, in principle, based upon the principle of comity and reciprocity, to entertain a Commission from India with respect to the Mumbai terror attacks investigations.


The modalities and composition in this connection will be worked out through diplomatic channels. Dates for the visit of the Judicial Commission from Islamabad in connection with Mumbai attack trial will be conveyed by New Delhi very soon. Moreover, India’s National Investigation Agency (NIA) and Pakistan’s Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) will continue to cooperate.


Recently, Islamabad has been found raising the decibels against New Delhi regarding the Samjhauta Express blast probe in a sort of tit-for-tat case. Earlier this year, in a rebuttal to Pakistan’s accusation that India was dilly-dallying in the case, Secretary Rao bluntly stated, “We have already said an investigation is going on in the Samjhauta blasts... It was an act of terrorism, there is no doubt about it, and when we are ready to share evidence with Pakistan, we will do it.”

Accordingly, during the course of the recent meeting, India provided information on the on-going Samjhauta Express blast case investigation. It was also agreed that after filing of report in the court, updated information would be shared with the concerned Pakistani authorities.


Other than the highly circulated news of Pakistan President Asif Ali Zardari signing an order releasing Indian convict Gopal Das, arrested on charges of spying and in Kot Lakhpat jail for the last 27 years, some important steps were taken towards the institutionalization of ways and means to deal with inadvertent crossers in a more humanitarian way.


Accordingly, both sides also agreed to task India’s Coast Guard and Pakistan’s Maritime Security Agency to work on setting up a mechanism for release of inadvertent crossers (fishermen) and their boats on the same lines as the unintentional crossers on land.


An agreement was reached to release by April 15, 2011 those prisoners/fishermen who have completed their sentence, whose nationality status has been confirmed by the respective Governments and whose travel documents have been received. The Judicial Committee on Prisoners was commended for the release, repatriation and humane treatment of prisoners and the need for its continuation was emphasized.


Moreover, mutual concerns and need for cooperation were expressed towards the issues of drug trafficking, human trafficking, counterfeit currency, cyber crimes and Red Corner Notices (RCNs) and towards examining the modalities for streamlining the visa procedure and giving a final shape to revision of the Bilateral Visa Agreement.


As the cricket fever settles down and the impact of the grand symbolism remain etched as beautiful memories of warm handshakes, and friendly embraces, the vital  issues of national security need to be worked out and that is where the real, practical picture will emerge.


Many a time in India-Pakistan relations, instances that looked like major opportunities of bringing peace have fizzled out as mere instances of illusions and temporary infatuation. It has become almost a cliché to say that there are no permanent friends and no permanent enemies in international relations. But all clichés have some amount of truth in them. Hence, the hope is that the same is true in case of India-Pakistan relations and that a time may come in the future when we finally say, “once we were enemies!” ---INFA


(Copyright, India News and Feature Alliance)

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