India, Pakistan reach cautious win-win perch

By Reuters Staff
July 19, 2009

By C. Uday Bhaskar

(C. Uday Bhaskar is a New Delhi-based strategic analyst. The views expressed in the column are his own)

The joint statement issued by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and his Pakistani counterpart Yusuf Raza Gilani at Sharm El-Sheikh in Egypt on the sidelines of the NAM Summit has generated considerable comment in both countries and is being interpreted across a wide bandwidth that ranges from outright condemnation to cautious cheer.

INDIA-PAKISTAN/India and Pakistan are now back to formal engagement — albeit in a brittle manner with many caveats after the composite dialogue, that goes back to January 2004, had been put on freeze by India after the Mumbai terrorist attack of November 2008.

It is instructive that this modest breakthrough came on the eve of U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s visit, which marks the first high-level political contact between the Obama administration and the UPA government after it was voted back to power.

The operative part of the statement is contained in a mere 18 words that read as: “Action on terrorism should not be linked to the composite dialogue process and these should not be bracketed.”

Critics in India have flayed Singh for his seeming ‘capitulation’ and invoked the criticism that he is ‘weak’ — a charge leveled against him during the early 2009 campaign phase.

In Pakistan, the joint statement is being perceived as a victory for Islamabad which had long sought this decoupling of action against terrorism (a euphemism for the investigation in the Mumbai attack) and the composite dialogue.

Some sections have compared PM Gilani’s performance to that of an astute captain who has won a crucial cricket match — allusion to Pakistan’s dramatic T20 victory at Lord’s in June.

A more objective assessment of the joint statement would suggest that yes, India was perhaps more conciliatory in what it conceded — but on balance this statement is a tightly drafted diplomatic win-win textual compromise for both leaders in a prickly domestic political environment.

India and Pakistan need to engage at the official level on many issues — none more urgent than terrorism — and the circle has been squared in a reasonably satisfactory manner.

INDIA-PAKISTAN/Pakistan’s insistence that Mumbai is linked to the abiding and unresolved issue of Kashmir has been set aside (though India has accepted a neutral reference to Balochistan) and is now committed — once again — to deal effectively with the Mumbai investigations.

Singh made a detailed statement in parliament asserting that Islamabad is expected to deliver on Mumbai first — and that some progress has been made by way of a dossier having been received that admits to the role of the Lashkar-e-Taiba and the ‘mastermind’ Zaki-ur-Rehman Lakhvi.

With this renewed commitment the Zardari-Gilani combine has infused some slender traction into the Mumbai investigations and justified Singh having gone the extra mile.

But will this be sustained? Past history and the unresolved politico-military contradictions within Pakistan do not augur very well. In 1972 when the Shimla pact was signed, PM Indira Gandhi was generous beyond compare with PM Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto and in retrospect, India could be charged with having squandered an emphatic military victory by way of the politico-diplomatic gains that accrued to it.

To that extent PM Singh has also been more conciliatory and accommodating with PM Gilani than what his domestic critics would have grudgingly endorsed. Will the tangled and zero-sum history of Indo-Pak dialogues repeat itself — or will this prudent gamble-cum-investment by Singh pay off?

INDIA-US/CLINTONThe answer to this conundrum lies to an extent in the visit of Hillary Clinton and the posture that the Obama administration proposes to adopt vis-à-vis terrorism and Pakistan.

In Delhi’s perception, the anti-India establishment in Pakistan has made a distinction between the good and bad terrorists. The latter include those who target the vital interest of Pakistan. But the former who target India are either tacitly encouraged or allowed to exploit the loopholes in Pakistani law and remain free.

The manner in which the Hafiz Saeed case is being prosecuted is illustrative. It is astonishing that Pakistani law ostensibly does not prohibit linkages with the al-Qaeda and yet the U.S. sees Pakistan as a principal ally in the war on terror.

Like the Pakistani policy, the U.S. is equally culpable of having followed an ambiguous approach towards terrorism and nuclear proliferation. Some transgressions get the Nelson’s eye – whether it is Hafiz Saeed or A.Q. Khan — or the ‘truth’ as revealed by President Zardari about the Pakistan establishment having supported and nurtured terrorism and religious radicalism.

It is time to ‘reset’ many South Asian policy buttons and the Clinton visit is an opportunity to clear the clutter. Distorted narratives about state support to terrorism, religious radicalism and nuclear proliferation must be jettisoned and the moderate civilian constituency in Pakistan enabled.

The Indo-Pak joint statement in Egypt has laid the foundation in a tentative manner and this must be strengthened in the Clinton visit.

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