India and Pakistan agree to hold more talks: now comes the hard part

April 29, 2010

thimphuAs predicted, the prime ministers of India and Pakistan agreed during a meeting in Bhutan that their countries should hold further talks to try to repair relations strained since the 2008 Mumbai attacks.  Foreign secretary Nirupama Rao told reporters at a regional summit in Thimphu that Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and his counterpart Yusuf Raza Gilani had decided their foreign ministers and foreign secretaries (the top diplomats) should meet as soon as possible.

In agreeing to hold more talks, India and Pakistan have overcome the first major obstacle in the way of better ties – the question of what form their dialogue should take. Pakistan had been insisting on a resumption of the formal peace process, or Composite Dialogue, broken off by India after the attack on Mumbai which it blamed on the Pakistan-based Lashkar-e-Taiba militant group. India had been seeking a way back into talks which stopped short of a full resumption of the Composite Dialogue.

The prime ministers, who last met in Egypt last July, appear to have sidestepped that problem by agreeing to hold dialogue on all issues, without specifically labelling this as the Composite Dialogue (which incidentally is meant to cover all issues.)

Having dealt with the form of their talks, the hard part – issues of substance – now lie ahead.

Any easing of tension between the two countries is unlikely to have any immediate impact on the U.S.-led war in Afghanistan, where India and Pakistan have been rivals for influence for decades.  Pakistan had already moved significant numbers of troops last year from its Indian border in the east to fight Pakistani Taliban militants on its western border with Afghanistan during a brief thaw between the two nuclear-armed countries last summer. According to a Pentagon report released this week, it may have redeployed as many as 100,000 troops from east to west. But that means it is unlikely to redeploy any more right now, particularly given its concerns at what it sees as an Indian military build-up on its eastern border.

But the talks between India and Pakistan could ultimately pave the way for a scaling down of the proxy war which the two countries’ intelligence services have been accused of waging in Afghanistan. Over time, that will have a major impact on Pakistan’s willingness to tackle the Afghan Taliban and force them to the negotiating table. (Pakistan’s fight against militants so far has been concentrated on tackling the Pakistani Taliban on its border with Afghanistan rather than those fighting U.S.-led forces in Afghanistan.) 

Pakistani officials complain that India is using its presence in Afghanistan – which grew substantially after the fall of the Pakistan-backed Taliban government in 2001 – to destabilise Pakistan.  They say India’s Research and Analysis Wing (R&AW) is giving money and weapons to Baluch separatists in Pakistan’s Baluchistan province. They also argue that R&AW agents are indirectly destabilising Pakistan’s tribal areas on the Afghan border by providing funding to militants via Afghan’s NDS intelligence service. India denies the accusations and has so far refused Pakistani demands that it close down its consulates in the Afghan cities of Kandahar and Jalalabad near the Pakistan border.

Indian analysts in turn have blamed Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) agency for attacks on Indian interests in Kabul, including two bombings of its embassy there and more recently an attack in February on a guest-house used by Indians.

Afghanistan has been a haven for years for proxy wars between rival intelligence agencies, often working with little real oversight from national capitals, so it is hard to work out exactly what is going on.  What is clear, however, is that whenever you ask a Pakistani official or diplomat about Pakistan’s cooperation with the United States in Afghanistan, they will invariably tell you that they expect in return that the country’s security interests vis-a-vis India are met. 

With its arrest of Taliban commander Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, Pakistan has demonstrated it is in a uniquely powerful position to bring the Taliban to the negotiating table – making it for now the favoured ally of the United States over India. Crucial to watch, therefore, in the months ahead will be whether Pakistan makes headway in its demands for a scaling back of India’s presence in Afghanistan, as the price for its cooperation on bringing the Afghan Taliban to heel. India in turn is unlikely to give much ground on Afghanistan unless it believes it will win concessions elsewhere, either from Pakistan itself or from the United States.

But the battle over Afghanistan, for all its complexities, is the easiest of the issues for the two countries to resolve. In theory, both have a mutual interest in a stable and neutral Afghanistan which neither threatens Pakistan nor is used as a haven for militant groups targeting India.  On paper, both countries have an opportunity to narrow their differences. And while the huge trust deficit between the two usually makes any progress on any subject extremely difficult, their row over Afghanistan is pragmatic rather than existential.

Where it becomes much more emotional between India and Pakistan is the dispute over Kashmir, which goes to the heart of both countries’ identities.  As an Islamic country, Pakistan has always considered Muslim Kashmir should have naturally been part of its territory after partition in 1947; as a secular country, India will not tolerate any territorial changes based on religion. And while India and Pakistan made progress in  resolving their dispute over Kashmir in 2007,  you can find plenty of people who are cynical about whether a deal worked out between Indian Prime Minister Singh and former Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf would ever have worked.  And significantly, the civilian government which took over from Musharraf has virtually disowned it.

Adding fuel to the fire is a row over the role of the Lashkar-e-Taiba, which according to those I spoke to in Pakistan, is unlikely to be disarmed any time soon. Officials say Pakistan cannot risk taking on the Punjab-based militant group while its army is fighting the Pakistani Taliban in the tribal areas. Those who do not speak for the government or the security services give both that reason and another – why should Pakistan disarm a group which is fighting for what many Pakistanis see as the liberation of Kashmir?

Last, but not least, is a dispute over dwindling, and erratic, water supplies as the Himalayan glaciers which feed rivers in both countries melt, and growing populations in both countries use up more and more water for irrigation.  This is perhaps the most troubling row since it is the one that both countries have least control over. Yet both will be more inclined to blame the other rather than the force of nature or global warming. (For a reality check, do get hold of a copy of this report published in 2005, which predicted that water would become an issue in 2010.)

Compared to the power of the Himalayan and Karakoram rivers; or indeed to the bitter identity-driven debate over Kashmir, the battle for influence between India and Pakistan in Afghanistan looks comparatively simple.  If the Thimphu thaw between India and Pakistan leads anywhere, I’d probably expect to see it in Afghanistan first.


Forgive my criticism. This article looks one sided and more tilted towards the Pakistani military establishment’s view. I am not surprised because you have been a guest invited by them to tour the NWFP after converting it into a theme park. I remember your unnecessary comment about sensing more fear in Indian held Kashmir than at the NWFP under the Pak military and the place appearing impeccable. Anyway, it is your opinion.

I welcome the diplomatic talks between Indian and Pak civlian governments. Pakistani military will need to face the truth someday and I hope they are sincere in what they are doing. India is a sleeping elephant. The best thing to do is not to poke at it and leave it alone. Pakistani military lost all its moral values for Muslims in Kashmir when it conducted the genocide in East Pakistan against fellow Muslims. They are engaging in Kashmir to avenge the loss of East Pakistan, after gaining nuclear weapons. I have never seen writers like you point at that. Everything from Indian side is “alleged”. People like you should be condemning the acts of terrorist groups like LeT.

We have started taking your view points with a pinch of salt after seeing several inconsistencies and change in views over a period of time. You are beginning to sound like an ISI mouth piece and your articles will find their favorite place in Pak Tribune.

Forgive my criticism once more. My apologies.

Posted by KPSingh01 | Report as abusive

Kashmir remains the core issue between the two countries, followed by Siachin, water and Indian sponsored terrorism in Baluchistan. Unless these problems are confronted squarely the relations between the two nations will remain soured.

Posted by Umairpk | Report as abusive

Is this artilce written by Myra? I don’t see the author’s name.

Anyways I agree with KPSingh. The article almost sounds like some thing written in one of the new numerous internet “newspapers” floated by PA, ISI.

Otherwise the article is also notable for amusement value such as “muslim kashmir” should have been part of pakistan. “Muslim” bangladesh got out, “muslim” balochistan wants out, “muslims” pastunistan wants out…LOL! “muslim” sindh, “muslim’ punjab are all mess on life support from the west.

Posted by Seekeroftruth | Report as abusive

The article mentioned below should be amusing to those who think all is quite well with Pakistan.  /29/pakistan-punjab-taliban

Pak military has apparently moved another 100000 soldiers from its Eastern border today. There must be something terrible going on that they cannot spell out yet.

I am betting on who and when the diplomatic process will be derailed by the radical elements inside Pakistan – anyone wants to bet? Hakimullah Mehsud is alive and well. So things are looking up for Pakistan. Umair must be celebrating. Myra might write on how Punjab looks like Switzerland next.

Posted by KPSingh01 | Report as abusive

@ “Kashmir remains the core issue between the two countries, followed by Siachin, water and Indian sponsored terrorism in Baluchistan. Unless these problems are confronted squarely the relations between the two nations will remain soured” Posted by Umairpk

Yeah right, these fantasies, distortions & propaganda based falsehoods are the real issues between India & Pakistan while the reality of terrorism conducted by Pakistani state & non-state acrors in India is an absolutely non-issue. How convenient!

Posted by Mortal1 | Report as abusive


When you write about the accusations being leveled by the Pakistanis that India is actively involved in de-stabbilizing Pakistan, wouldn’t it be fair for you to also mention that so far, there is not an iota of evidence to substantiate the Pakistani claim?
Also, when you mention about the Indian claim that the ISI was involved in the attacks on Indian interests in Afghanistan, shouldn’t you mention that the US officials also agree with the Indians on this?

Please quit being a Pakistan apoligist and state the facts as they are and not as the Pakistanis want you to see them.

Posted by Mortal1 | Report as abusive


As an aftermath of Mumbai attack ,26/11, India took stand of discontinuing any peace dialogue till all the guilty and perpetrators are brought to book . India also demanded Pakistan must not allow its soil for launching terror attacks inside India . With this meeting of Indian and Pakistani Prime Ministers in Bhutan, whether Pakistan has agreed to act on Indian demands and if not , is there any change in Indian stands on terror attacks launched by Pakistanis ? Whether Singh is acting in national interest or he is serving interests of his foreign masters ?

Posted by manishindia | Report as abusive

It appears we are still not willing to resume talks, because in order to do that it is important to forgive and forget the mistakes occurred in the past. This will provide room to resume talks and solve the issues that have been the bone of contention between the two countries.

Posted by SZaman88 | Report as abusive


Kashmir is India’s issue, and not one ‘between’ India and Pak. Pak has nothing whatsoever to do with kashmir.

“Indian sponsored terrorism in Baluchistan” ..

Ha ha ha.. how we Indian’s long for a day when the RAW will actually give back ISI their own medicine by doing stuff like these. But its just a dream. Our RAW officers are bit too lazy for such ‘extra curicular activities’ :(

you get my point? anyways, thanks for the baluch idea. lets just hope the next governing party carries this forward to reality.

Posted by grey_on_all | Report as abusive

Looks like Pak military has to let its investment and assets sink once more.They are now facing the situation of going after their hidden assets in North Waziristan. The dog and pony show in South Waziristan did not convince the Americans much. So “they have realized on their own” that those hiding there are bad. All these years they did not get a chance to realize that (LOL). asia/30pstan.html?hp

So Pak military will start announcing the dates and fixtures for the next “attack” in North Waziristan. This will give enough time for the “assets” to relocate, leaving dummies to face the mighty Pak military. Then the area will be cleared. Anyone who is shot will be declared a terrorist. Then credible writers from the Western media will be taken there on a tour to take pictures and write how beautiful and wonderful the place is and how it is not what Kipling and other liars have said. Then the case will be closed and Pak military will get more military hardware and money.

What a farce! In the meantime, the civil diplomats in India and Pakistan will be running another show to please the US state department until the next terrorist strike somewhere in India. And it will be timed in order to take away the attention from North Waziristan.

Doesn’t this sound familiar? Haven’t we seen this before? Deja Vu indeed.

Posted by KPSingh01 | Report as abusive

it is overwhelmingly Indian view not to start any dialogue with Pakistan, if Singh has started this dialogue, he is doing at his own peril. He is definitely not acting in Indian interest . Definitely he is not serving Indian interest, is he then serving interest of his foreign master ? Or is he eying a vote bank?

Posted by manishindia | Report as abusive


Yes, I agree with you, India and Pakistan have issues to work out, but with regards to water, you Pakistanis had decades to build damns and address water management and time and money to build piping networks and infrastructure in your cities. You fools wasted all that money on making bullets, bombs and weapons, rather than the punjabi’s investing in their own people, the uniformed punjabis of Pindi and Islamabad looked after themselves first, as always.

You cannot flat-out boldly deny that your Army has sucked so much money to fatten its own waistline, using a fictitious war with India and at the same time, starving Pakistan of critical functions like water, education, infrastructure and the like.

It is time to redefine Pakistan’s problem. Pakistan’s problem is not one of water, RAW, India, Israel or the U.S., or even so much of the Terrorists either, at the core of all of Pakistani’s mismanagement and woes are the Punjabi Elite, who can’t run a country, nor can they create consensus for political stability, even using India as some sort of horned and fanged entity, it is still not enough.

At the end of the day, Pakistan will never rise from the ashes unless the Punjabi Raj in Pakistan comes to an end and proper democracy allows representation by population and equalization results in a greater voice for all ethnicities in Pakistan.

Sorry Umair, until you “lafang” and “babe-coof” Punjabis step aside, and let true democracy take place, you Punjabi’s will keep finding selfish ways to fail your fellow Pakistani and make Pakistan look stupid and foolish.

It is time to quit blaming India, Israel, the U.S. and outside forces for all the problems in Pakistan, the Punjabi’s fearless campaign of blaming others for all of Pakistani’s problems has to come to an end.

It is time Pakistan becomes for ALL Pakistani’s not just the privileged Punjabi’s and their military friends.

The punjabi’s have wasted Pakistan’s true potential on making bombs and terrorism. Its hard to tell how far Pakistan could have gone since partition, had the Pak Punjabi’s not wasted so much money, time and energy on useless endeavors to look after themselves first and use the politics of Islam and racial superiority to impose rule on others there.

Posted by G-W | Report as abusive

Post Your Comment

We welcome comments that advance the story through relevant opinion, anecdotes, links and data. If you see a comment that you believe is irrelevant or inappropriate, you can flag it to our editors by using the report abuse links. Views expressed in the comments do not represent those of Reuters. For more information on our comment policy, see