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Hope for Progress in India-Pakistan Talks

India and Pakistan had a historic opportunity in front of them: an opportunity to move beyond the old cycle of rhetoric where each side simply indulges in grandstanding and only puts forth its complaints against the other, not ways to move ahead. But on February 25, when the talks were finally held between the Indian and Pakistani foreign secretaries, they only reaffirmed the need to talk; they did not even put forth a date for future meetings.


In 2004 the governments of India and Pakistan started the composite peace dialogue to tackle some of the key issues troubling the two nations. The November 2008 attacks in Mumbai by the Pakistan-based Kashmiri jihadi group, Lashkar-e-Taiba, however, led India to put a hold on these talks.

With the reelection of the Congress-led government to power in June 2009 there was hope that the peace process would resume. The meeting between Prime Ministers Manmohan Singh and Yusuf Raza Gilani at Sharm el Sheikh in July 2009 reflected these sentiments. However, for the last few months India has refused to hold talks. It insists that in order for the composite dialogue to resume Pakistan must do more on tackling the terror infrastructure within its borders.

Terrorism is a major Indian concern, and Pakistan needs to tackle the multi-headed hydra monster that previous regimes allowed to grow in their country. However, just as terrorism is important to India, security is paramount for Pakistan.

There are many principles which underlie any nation’s foreign policy and the same is true of Pakistan. However, the one key underlying factor is its sense of existential threat from a larger neighbor India. Its security, defense, and foreign policies have been framed to a large extent by this fear, resulting in unwillingness on the part of Pakistani leaders to seek cordiality with India.

If someone indulges in paranoia, the best way to help the person overcome the fear is to reassure that person that we have no ill will towards them. Over the years successive Indian leaders have done that starting with Jawaharlal Nehru and continuing through Atal Behari Vajpayee and incumbent Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. Here is a sampling of their statements:


I can assure the people of Pakistan that India has no aggressive designs against any country, least of all against Pakistan. We want Pakistan to live in peace and to progress and to have the closest ties with us. There never will be aggression from our side.

A stable, secure and prosperous Pakistan is in Indias interest. Let no one in Pakistan be in doubt. India sincerely wishes Pakistan well.

India would like to live at peace with Pakistan and we are ready to extend our hand of friendship and partnership with Pakistan.

However, when will it be seen that it is not words but intentions that matter? Is India willing to demonstrate that it believes in a stable Pakistan? The secretary-level talks would have been an excellent opportunity for Indians to have demonstrated that we mean what we say. For India, a democratic, and economically and politically stable Pakistan which is secure in its own identity and confident about its security is the best neighbor.

Even after two years in the saddle, the civilian government in Pakistan is weak and often takes two steps backward before it takes one step forward. However, the civilian government has done more towards tackling the terrorist infrastructure in Pakistan than any previous regime. The seven accused in the Mumbai terror attacks of November 2008 have not yet been indicted, but that has more to do with domestic politics than any reluctance on the part of the administration.

If we pause to consider how deep is the mistrust between Indian and Pakistani security and intelligence establishments, maybe we will realize that the best way to tackle the issue is to talk more with Pakistan, not break off ties. Perhaps the joint intelligence mechanism which was set up in 2006-2007 needs to be given an opportunity to work. Taking up  Lt. General Pasha’s — the current Pakistani intelligence chief — offer to talk might be a good idea, as would accepting Premier Gilani’s recent comments that Pakistan would be willing to share intelligence with India.


The hawks in India will definitely disagree, but as the older democracy in the region, India should be more accepting. Analysts have often compared India-Pakistan relations to U.S.-Canada relations and hoped for as good a relationship between the former as there is between the latter. Some Indian analysts assert that just as Canada has accepted that the U.S. is the dominant power in the continent, similarly, Pakistan must do the same. What they fail to point out is that for this to happen, the U.S. has by and large acted magnanimously with its neighbor and they share open borders.

Indians need to be realists, not hawks or idealists. Lighting candles at Wagah border is not going to solve our problems, but neither is blaming Pakistan for everything. Pakistani leaders also need to realize that blaming India for all domestic and security related issues will not solve Pakistan’s problems. Instead, by developing better ties with India, a lot of Pakistan’s economic and security-related issues will be resolved.

For the last few months, the Indian government has been claiming that a resumption of the composite dialogue would be a concession to Pakistan, and therefore unacceptable to the Indian public. Similarly, the Pakistani government hides behind the cloak of anti-India public opinion.

What we have to ask ourselves is if this really true. Do the Indian and Pakistani publics really prefer belligerence and jingoism over a chance for peace and prosperity on both sides of the India-Pakistan border? The growing cultural, economic, and technological ties between the two countries show that Indians and Pakistanis want to move beyond the legacy of mistrust. But will their governments help them in this process or hinder them? Leaders are meant to frame and lead public opinion, not hide behind it.


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