Pakistan: Now or Never?
Perspectives on Pakistan
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.
India broke off the formal peace process, the so-called composite dialogue, with Pakistan after the three-day assault on Mumbai blamed on the Lashkar-e-Taiba, a militant group once nurtured by Pakistan to fight India in Kashmir. But even before the attack, informal behind-the-scenes talks on Kashmir held under former president Pervez Musharraf had fallen victim to the political turbulence which led to his ouster last year, and any hope of reviving them under the new civilian government led by Zardari was dashed altogether by the Mumbai assault.
Ahead of the NAM summit in Sharm el-Sheikh — during which the foreign secretaries of both countries will meet on the sidelines, to be followed by talks between Singh and Pakistan Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani – the two countries have been trying to put together the pieces of their shattered relationship.
Having asked last month whether Pakistan was in a position to take on the Laskhar-e-Taiba, an obvious follow-up question was to try to assess how much of a threat the militant group blamed for last year’s attacks on Mumbai represents to the West and to India.
According to analysts who track the LeT closely, the Pakistan-based militant group is not the new al Qaeda. It is still very much focused on Kashmir and India, while its single-issue agenda along with the humanitarian work carried out by its Jamaat-ud-Dawa charitable wing mean it is more comparable to the Palestinian Islamist group Hamas than to al Qaeda.
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.
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.
The world’s largest democracy chooses a new government in an election beginning on Thursday, and given the fires burning next door in Pakistan and Afghanistan, the men and women who will rule New Delhi over the next five years will doubtless exert influence over the course of events.
Indeed, with the pain and anger over the Mumbai attacks of November still raw, the mood could hardly be tougher against Pakistan. Even shorn of the campaign rhetoric, the positions of both the ruling Congress and the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party on Pakistan begin from common ground. No dialogue with Islamabad until it “dismantles the infrastructure of terrorism”, both parties say in their manifestos.
The Pakistani state may be facing its most serious threat since its birth more than six decades ago, begging the question of who controls the militants who are expanding their influence across the country.
The question has arisen in the light of escalating violence inside Pakistan including the attack on the Sri Lankan cricket team despite a call reported to have been made by the leader of the Afghan Taliban, Mullah Mohammed Omar, urging Pakistani militants to stop fighting at home and instead focus on Afghanistan.
Conspiracy theories have filled a void in Pakistan that opened up as soon as the dozen gunmen who attacked the visiting Sri Lankan cricket team made a leisurely getaway without any apparent casualties after a 25 minute gun battle.
Since the attack on Tuesday, Pakistani authorities have yet to reveal where the investigation was going, despite Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi saying “important leads” had been established.
India’s ruling Congress party thinks Pakistan is fast becoming the “Somalia of South Asia”. The attack on Sri Lankan cricketers in Lahore was the result of the state ceding its territory to the fundamentalists and Taliban of the world, a party spokesman said.
Strong words these, but are they going to come back to haunt India and the Congress itself ? Is this really just about Pakistan or is the fire, which many believe began when foreign forces moved into Afghanistan, already dangerously close to India?
With Richard Holbrooke very much keeping his own counsel about his maiden visit to Pakistan, it’s been hard to assess quite how much change is to be expected from President Barack Obama’s new special envoy.
But a couple of early op-eds suggest that the change might be quite substantial.
Former President Pervez Musharraf was always one for the grand gesture. So it should come as no surprise that after a period of relative obscurity following his resignation in August last year, he will visit India as part of a series of lectures he plans to give worldwide.
In an interview with the BBC, Musharraf, who has just returned from a trip to the United States, said he was enjoying his retirement and had been invited to give lectures on Pakistan and the South Asian region around the world. “He said the first invitation he had accepted was from India, where he expected to speak at a conference in Delhi next month,” the BBC said.