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Shall We Dance?


SAURABH KUMAR SHAHI | New Delhi, November 25, 2011 12:13
Tags : 26/11 | mumbai terror attacks | indo-pak ties | terrorism | bilateral talks |

While the MFN status and the revival of Joint Ministerial Commission (JMC) between India and Pakistan indicate the countries are willing to move ahead, Afghanistan quagmire has the serious potential to undermine the gains.
Three years can be a hell lot of time in diplomacy; three years can merely be moments as well. All that depends in diplomacy is how far one is willing to move. It's been three years since the deadly Mumbai attacks (26/11) and we have definitely moved. But thankfully, we have not moved ahead.
There have been two broad historical positions that Pakistan takes when it comes to engagement. Pakistan wants talks to continue at any cost irrespective of terror strikes and it wants Kashmir to figure prominently in any such engagement. These positions have dramatically been opposite to what India has taken all these years long: no talks if terror is not reined in and Kashmir can be left on the back-burner while other issues are resolved. And post 26/11, both parties stuck to their age-old stances. The negotiations and other engagements came to a grinding halt. Track II diplomacy breathed for a few days and that too made a retreat.
As it happens with sports in India, the sportsmen consider themselves soldiers first and players later. Many of the sports bodies took out-of-way decisions, with more-than-willing MEA bosses for help, to sever all sporting ties.
However, thaw came soon. While India officially kept on insisting to "do more" on 26/11, enormous pressure from US made it start the process again. The role of US in the entire episode was clandestine and nothing much came out in media. However, in a typical US stance, while its military and civil heads kept on criticising Pakistan, showing full support to India's stand in the process, secretly, it kept insisting on the talks to resume. It has its own purpose to serve.
Soon, important track II voices started to emerge. Satinder Kumar Lambah, Special Envoy in the Prime Minister’s Office and key interlocutor in the back channel talks between India and Pakistan, was the first to break the ice. Talking to the media, he had said, “most critical engagement is with Pakistan. Not engaging a neighbour with 180 million people, strong antagonism towards India, a growing nuclear weapons arsenal and worsening instability is not a wise choice. We can defend ourselves against hostility but instability in the neighbourhood can have unpredictable consequences.”
Post-Mumbai phase of diplomacy that started at the Thimphu meeting in April 2010 between Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and his Pakistani counterpart Yousaf Raza Gilani culminated into Foreign Minister level meeting. At Thimphu, the two leaders had expressed their resolve that a working dialogue track be resumed as soon as possible. At Thimphu again, in February 2011, the foreign secretaries met and firmed up details of fresh rounds of bilateral talks between the eight working groups. In between the two meetings held at Thimphu, the Pakistani and Indian home ministers met to cover ground on the 26/11 Mumbai attacks investigation.
“The significance of Thimphu was that Indian and Pakistani political leaderships together came to the conclusion that the post-26/11 strategy of making substantive dialogue conditional on progress in the Mumbai investigation was counterproductive for both the Mumbai investigations as well as the bilateral relationship,” says noted Pakistani strategic expert, Nasim Zehra.
Since then, we have moved further ahead with the granting of Most Favoured Nation (MFN) status by Pakistan and an agreement to make the visa regime easier for the businessmen of the two countries. Meanwhile, another positive step that was discussed was the revival of now-defunct Joint Ministerial Commission (JMC).
“Set up in the 1980s, the JMC has met intermittently, depending on the state of bilateral relations and the preferred dialogue track of the governments in power. For example, in 2005, it met after a break of 16 years. Its last session was held in February 2007, but will now be formally revived. This also means that technical-level working groups on agriculture, health, science and technology could well be revived, since they came under the JMC’s ambit,” adds Zehra.
At the military level though, there still appears to be some major roadblocks. It is true that both the countries were on the verge of settling Siachen and Sir Creek issue when 26/11 happened and discussions were abruptly stopped. In the changed security dynamics, those negotiations will have to be restarted. A major roadblock appears to be the strategic deal between India and Afghanistan that has ruffled quite a few feathers in Islamabad. Pakistan has traditionally seen Afghanistan as its backyard and added the security depth analogy in mid 80s to it. Under the circumstances, the deal seems to have convinced the Pakistani military establishment that India is trying to encircle it from west. It has also repeatedly claimed that an Indian consulate in Afghanistan is being used to fan insurgency in restive Baluchistan.
“The Indian security establishment may have done colossal damage to the Indian foreign policy by entrapping our leadership in another proxy war in Afghanistan. For them, it is also an easy route to escape the blame for their ineptitude and comprehensive failure in safeguarding national security,” says Ambassador M. Bhadrakumara, an expert on Afghanistan and Central Asia. “But it is a dark day for any country when it fails to optimally use its diplomatic skills and intellectual resources. The inescapable fact is that the one-dimensional men in our security establishment shall now be driving the country’s Afghan policy.”
For the moment, the going looks good. Afghanistan issue has not played-up as it could have; mostly because Central Asian nations, Iran and Russia have not shown much enthusiasm to the strategic deal. Also, Pakistani security establishment believes that it still has a few strings to pull when push comes to shove. Till ten, we can talks as much as we want.

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Issue Dated: Feb 5, 2017