Pakistan: Now or Never?
Perspectives on Pakistan
from India Insight:
New Delhi said this week it will adopt "quiet diplomacy" with every section of political opinion to find a solution to the problems in India-ruled Kashmir about four years after it opened a dialogue with separatist groups there.
New Delhi has not yet made a formal offer for talks. But the timing of the development appears to be significant.
Violence is at a low in Kashmir, elections there were largely successful and last year's angry public protests against Indian rule have now subsided.
from India Insight:
A street vendor in Srinagar, Kashmir's summer capital, sold hundreds of framed portraits of Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi in the last one week.
Kashmiri separatists and many residents are all praise for Gaddafi after his maiden address to the U.N. General Assembly last week in which he said Kashmir should be an "independent state."
A single paragraph in General Stanley McChrystal’s leaked assessment of the war in Afghanistan has generated much interest, particularly in Pakistan.
“Indian political and economic influence is increasing in Afghanistan, including significant development efforts and financial investment,” it says. “In addition the current Afghan government is perceived by Islamabad to be pro-Indian. While Indian activities largely benefit the Afghan people, increasing Indian influence in Afghanistan is likely to exacerbate regional tensions and encourage Pakistani counter-measures in Afghanistan or India.”
Following up on my earlier post about what is happening behind the scenes in the fraught relationship between India and Pakistan, it’s worth keeping track of this report that Islamabad is considering appointing former foreign secretary Riaz Mohammad Khan to handle the informal dialogue with New Delhi known as “backchannel diplomacy”.
As discussed in this story there has been much talk about trying to get the backchannel diplomacy between India and Pakistan up and running again, both to reduce India-Pakistan rivalry in Afghanistan and to prevent an escalation of tensions between the two countries themselves. So any forward movement on the backchannel diplomacy, if confirmed, would be important.
With so much noise around these days in the relationship between India and Pakistan it is hard to make out a clear trend. Politicians and national media in both countries have reverted to trading accusations, whether it be about their nuclear arsenals, Pakistani action against Islamist militants blamed for last year’s Mumbai attacks or alleged violations of a ceasefire on the Line of Control dividing Kashmir. Scan the headlines on a Google news search on India and Pakistan and you get the impression of a relationship fraught beyond repair.
Does that mean that attempts to find a way back into peace talks broken off after the Mumbai attacks are going nowhere? Not necessarily. In the past the background noise of angry rhetoric has usually obscured real progress behind the scenes, and this time around may be no exception.
Even before Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and President Asif Ali Zardari broke the ice by meeting on the sidelines of a regional summit in Yekaterinburg, Russia last month, the real question over talks between India and Pakistan has not been about the form but the substance.
After the bitterness of last year’s attacks on Mumbai by Pakistan-based militants, can India and Pakistan work their way back to a roadmap for an agreement on Kashmir reached two years ago? Although never finalised, the roadmap opened up the intellectual space for an eventual peace deal. This week’s meetings between India and Pakistan on the sidelines of a Non-Aligned Movement summit in Sharm el-Sheikh in Egypt could give some clues on whether it has any chance of being revived.
With the foreign secretaries of India and Pakistan likely to meet on the sidelines of a summit in Egypt this month, to be followed up by talks between the two countries’ leaders, newspapers on both sides of the border are exploring the space for progress in a peace process broken off by New Delhi after last November’s attacks on Mumbai.
The Hindu says that officials in both New Delhi and Islamabad are working to prepare the ground for the meetings – expected to take place on the sidelines of a summit of the Non-Aligned Movement in Sharm el-Sheikh – so that at least some progress can be made.
The suicide bomb attack on the Pakistan Army in Pakistani Kashmir on Friday was not only unprecedented; it also raised questions about the state of militancy in Pakistan.
At its simplest level, the first suicide bombing in Pakistan’s side of Kashmir was seen as a reaction by the Pakistani Taliban to Pakistan’s military campaign against them in South Waziristan. “The militants are hurting and they are reacting. And this is a reaction to the successful operations we’ve had in Waziristan and we’ve had in the Malakand division,” Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi told Reuters.
President Barack Obama chose his words carefully when asked in an interview with Dawn earlier this week why the United States has been silent on Kashmir in recent months:
“I don’t think that we’ve been silent on the fact that India is a great friend of the United States and Pakistan is a great friend of the United States, and it always grieves us to see friends fighting. And we can’t dictate to Pakistan or India how they should resolve their differences, but we know that both countries would prosper if those differences are resolved,” the newspaper quoted him as saying.
Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh reached out to Pakistan on Tuesday, saying he was ready to go “more than half way” if Islamabad cracked down on militants. Peace with Pakistan was in India’s “vital interest” he told parliament in a speech, presumably directed at those in the Indian strategic establishment who believe in a more muscular approach toward Pakistan especially after the Mumbai attacks.
So is Singh laying the ground for a slight thaw in ties? Since he was re-elected with a stronger mandate, some kind of opening to Pakistan has been expected, given that it has been more than six months since ties went into deep chill following the attacks in November. The feeling in New Delhi has been sooner than later it has to engage Pakistan. You cannot change your neighbours, new foreign minister S.M.Krishna said soon after taking over and if that is the case, you can’t not talk to your neighbour indefinitely.