Pankaj Sharma and Ajay Vaishnav/ Zee Research Group
For four years Mohammed Ajmal Amir Kasab’s lasting image of a youth on a killing spree with his Kalashnikov rifle at Mumbai’s Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus has defined the India-Pakistan dialogue process. With Kasab gone (the LeT terrorist was hanged on Wednesday morning at Pune’s Yerawada Jail), the moot question is whether the bilateral ties between the two nations can tangibly move forward?
More importantly, what is going to be the fate of investigation into the Mumbai attacks? Can progress be achieved between New Delhi and Islamabad without delinking 26/11 from the overall dialogue process, or is progress on other contentious issues with Pakistan acceptable to India while Islamabad does nothing or little in relation to 26/11? Kasab was just a pawn; the chief architects of the Mumbai attacks – from the shady and rogue world of the Pakistani Army and the ISI along with their protégés such as LeT’s Hafiz Saeed, are still walking free in Pakistan and spewing more venom against India.
The pessimism is warranted as the entire composite dialogue process between the two countries has gone off track since 26/11. The abiding image of Kasab and nine other Lashkar-e-Toiba (LeT) terrorists perpetrating a three-day bloodbath in Mumbai that claimed 166 lives including many foreigners continues to overshadow India’s talks with Islamabad.
Since Mumbai attacks of 2008, the two nations have met 25 times without achieving any major breakthrough except the recent inking of a liberalised visa regime during former external affairs minister SM Krishna’s October visit to Pakistan.
After 26/11, the first meeting between the foreign secretaries of the two nations took place in February, 2009, on the sidelines of the SAARC ministerial meeting in Colombo, Sri Lanka. It was followed by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s meeting with Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari in Yekaterinburg, Russian Federation on the sidelines of the G-8 Summit. In all, India and Pakistan met five times in 2009 including the high profile Singh-Zardari meeting on the sidelines of the NAM Summit in Sharm-el-Sheikh, Egypt.
In 2010, four high-level meetings took place between the neighbouring countries. In July, 2010, talks between the then external affairs minister SM Krishna with his counterpart SM Qureshi in Islamabad ended in bitterness over Pakistan raking up the Kashmir issue and India insisting that Pakistan give a timeframe for completing the Mumbai attacks trial.
In 2011, the number of meetings increased to six which also included high profile cricket diplomacy visit of former Pakistani prime minister Yousaf Raza Gilani to watch India-Pakistan semi-final cricket match during the World Cup at Mohali. The year also saw Pakistan announcing its intention to grant India the Most Favoured Nation (MFN) trade status.
The number of these meetings has increased to nine in 2012 including the recent visit of former external affairs minister SM Krishna and signing of a liberalized visa regime with Pakistan. The last meeting between the home ministers of two nations, Sushil Kumar Shinde and his Pakistani counterpart Rehman Malik, took place earlier this month in Rome where the former pressed for speedy punishment to the perpetrators of Mumbai terror attacks. Pakistan responded by seeking to expedite the trial while India reciprocated by inviting cricketers from across the border for a bilateral series, first time post the Mumbai terror attacks.
While the two nations have shown intent to engage, not much has got translated into tangible gains on the ground. That’s because the 26/11 attacks remain central to the step-by-step process of re-engagement with Pakistan. Even Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has been deferring his visit to Islamabad supposedly due to the lack of progress in 26/11 case in Pakistan. The “sense of hurt” remains in India, further exacerbated by Islamabad’s attitude on the trial. Unless the terror machine that operates with substantial support from the Pakistani Army is brought to book, it is unlikely that any lasting progress in the peace process happen. Kasab’s execution might only abet the negativity in the sentiment on both sides.