Pakistan: Now or Never?
Perspectives on Pakistan
Given the history of India and Pakistan, it is easy to be sceptical about the chances of their latest peace initiative. So let’s start with the positives.
Unlike past peace efforts which have veered between ill-prepared personal initiatives by political leaders and technical talks between bureaucrats which foundered for lack of direction from the top, the current phase combines the two. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s impromptu invitation to his Pakistani counterpart Yusuf Raza Gilani to watch last week’s India-Pakistan cricket semi-final coincided with the resumption of the first structured dialogue between the two countries since the November 2008 attacks on Mumbai. The foreign secretaries, or top diplomats, of India and Pakistan met in Thimphu, Bhutan in February. In talks last week, the home secretaries of the two countries made progress in coordinating their investigations into the Mumbai attacks; the trade secretaries are expected to meet soon, as are the defence secretaries.
Moreover, the Indian prime minister is personally committed to pursuing peace in the time he has left before a national election due by 2014. And while last year he was isolated even within his own party in his enthusiasm for peace - an idea that still lingers in some quarters - his initiative appears to enjoy the support of powerful Congress party president Sonia Gandhi. Outlook magazine, writing about his cricket diplomacy, noted that Singh was flanked by Gandhi and her son and prime-minister- in-waiting, Rahul Gandhi, when he welcomed Gilani on his first official visit to India.
The Pakistan Army, which dominates foreign and security policy in Pakistan, has also been slowly reassessing its approach to Islamist militants it once nurtured for use against India as they slip increasingly out of its control. How far that reassessment goes is open to debate; but few doubt that Gilani would have accepted Singh’s invitation to India to explore peace talks had this not been endorsed by the army.
from Afghan Journal:
Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh is in the United States for the first official state visit by any foreign leader since President Barack Obama took office this year. While the atmospherics are right, and the two leaders probably won't be looking as stilted as Obama and China's President Hu Jintao appeared to be during Obama's trip last week (for the Indians are rarely short on conversation), there is a sense of unease.
And much of it has to do with AFPAK - the war in Afghanistan and Pakistan which is very nearly at the top of Obama's foreign policy agenda and one that some fear may eventually consume the rest of his presidency. America's ally Pakistan worries about India's expanding assistance and links to Afghanistan, seeing it as part of a strategy to encircle it from the rear. Ordinarily, Pakistani noises wouldn't bother India as much, but for signs that the Obama administration has begun to adopt those concerns as its own in its desperate search for a solution, as Fareed Zakaria writes in Newsweek.
Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has held out an olive branch to Pakistan by renewing an offer to talk, while also calling on it to take action against militants operating from its territory. India’s Press and Information Bureau has the excerpts of a speech delivered in Kashmir. in which Singh held out “a hand of friendship” to Pakistan. It’s worth reading in detail because it was clearly carefully prepared, endorsed politically by Congress president Sonia Gandhi who accompanied the prime minister, and according to The Hindu newspaper. an attempt to advance the peace process with Pakistan.
India and Pakistan, he said, had made progress in peace talks started in 2004, and had been able to open up trade and travel across the Line of Control (LoC), the ceasefire line dividing Kashmir. “These are not small achievements given the history of our troubled relationship with Pakistan.”
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.
Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has staked his political reputation on talks with Pakistan, earning in equal measure both praise and contempt from a domestic audience still burned by last November’s attack on Mumbai by Pakistan-based militants.
“I sincerely believe it is our obligation to keep the channels of communication open,” he said in a debate in parliament on Wednesday. ”Unless we talk directly to Pakistan we will have to rely on a third party to do so… Unless you want to go to war with Pakistan, there is no way, but to go step-by-step… dialogue and engagement are the best way forward,” Singh said.
from India Insight:
Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari has dropped a plan to travel to Egypt next month where he was expected to hold further talks with Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh following their meeting in Russia this week.
Pakistan's foreign office has said Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani will attend the summit of Non-Aligned Nations in the Egyptian city of Sharm El Sheikh although soon after the Singh-Zardari meeting in Yekaterinburg the two sides announced plans for a second meeting in July.
Some people in India are calling upon the new coalition government to make a series of bold moves towards Pakistan that will compel the neighbour to put its money where the mouth is.
If Pakistan keeps saying that it cannot fully and single-mindedly go after militants on its northwest frontier and indeed increasingly within the heartland because of the threat it faces from India, then New Delhi must call its bluff, argued authors Nitin Pai and Sushant K. Singh in a recent piece for India’s Mint newspaper.
India continues to turn up the heat on Pakistan for the Mumbai attacks, declaring once again on Wednesday that all options were open to disrupt militant networks operating from there. And this, a day after Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said official agencies must have been involved in an operation of such sophistication, a serious charge by a head of government against another state.
But is India really in a position to make good its threats against Pakistan ? The question has repeatedly come up here on this blog and elsewhere since those attacks on November 26 and now in the light of Israel’s Gaza operation, some people are again asking why New Delhi cannot carry out punitive strikes inside Pakistan.
from India Insight:
It has been a tense game of poker between India and Pakistan since the Mumbai attacks. On the face of it, India had the much stronger hand -- not least because it captured one of the attackers alive and got him to confess to being trained in Pakistan.
But has it played its cards well?
In the immediate aftermath of the Mumbai attacks, India’s response has been to look to the United States to lean on Pakistan, which it blames for spawning Islamist militancy across the region, rather than launching any military retaliation of its own. So after U.S. Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice’s trip to India and Pakistan last week, have the Americans done enough for now?
According to Pakistan’s Dawn newspaper, Rice told Pakistan there was “irrefutable evidence” that elements within the country were involved in the Mumbai attacks. And it quotes unnamed sources as saying that behind-the-scenes she “pushed the Pakistani leaders to take care of the perpetrators, otherwise the U.S. will act”.