An India that can’t say no to Pakistan!

Talking is better than not talking at all with a nuclear-armed neighbour.

Ajay Vaishnav, Rakesh Khar/ZRG

Did India act in haste in endorsing a relaxed visa policy with Pakistan? Should not it have audited the real outcome of the earlier Confidence Building Measures (CBMs) in context of continued support to anti-India activities latest being the cyber war launched from across the border?

Or, did India just do the right thing by putting history behind it, to seek a cordial future with its neighbour? The verdict on the vexed debate persists even as hope floats that somehow or the other the warring nations find love together.

India and Pakistan have signed a liberalised visa regime during external affairs minister SM Krishna’s recent visit to Pakistan. Not surprisingly, the mood on both sides of the border is upbeat. More so, because the two sides were able to clinch a deal without succumbing to the weight of complex irritants such as terrorism, Jammu and Kashmir, Siachen and Sir Creek and water issues.

The optimism is palpable. Dr Rajiv Kumar, Secretary General, industry body FICCI, asserts, “The easing of the visa regime is unlike any other CBM as it facilitates the visit of and interaction amongst the businessmen of the two countries. The only way to prevent the relations between the two countries from being held hostage to the past fundamentalist actions is to improve the economic ties. The liberalisation of the visa regime and the reduction in the size of the negative list for cross-border trade will contribute directly to that.” He is sure not to mention the flip flop on MFN status by Pakistan, perhaps, not to spoil the mood.

While better and peaceful ties with Islamabad are desirable, it doesn’t take more than common sense to spot the dichotomy in the engagement strategy with Pakistan. On one hand India is keen to show Pakistan to unfaithful on the 9/11 probe as also its failure to reign in terror modules, and on the other we shake hands in public view and seek visa opening up as a landmark step to engage Pakistan to hopefully help it seem merit in India’s terror concerns.

But a contrarian argument reads the riot act. With Pakistan reeling under the weight of its own mess in Afghanistan, domestic instability, worsening economic situation and diplomatic isolation especially American indifference and restrictions on aid; shouldn’t New Delhi have posed hard to bargain? Instead, we might have conceded yet another vista for anti-India elements in Pakistan to enter the country or at least make a recce of targets.

Deep K Datta-Ray, a Singapore-based independent researcher on diplomacy sounds optimistic and avers that Krishna and the Prime Minister, the main architect behind recent peace manoeuvres be commended for the recent trip.

With Indian establishment sort of de-linking terrorism from talks, Pakistan’s strategy has even started paying initial dividends. In fact, the word “terror” was not mentioned during the joint briefing in Islamabad. In fact, Pakistan with a glamorous and determined Hina Rabbani Khar seemed to have gained an upper hand when she said that “both sides should not be held hostage to history.”

She had earlier made it clear that Pakistan is keen to host Prime Minister Manmohan Singh without any conditions. What adds insult to injury is that our foreign affairs establishment is terming Krishna’s visit a success when the only time the word "terror" in Mumbai terror attacks` context found mention was in the joint statement.

The failure to see any genuine assurance from Pakistan’s side to bring 26/11 perpetrators to book will only sustain the common criticism levelled against India-Pakistan dialogues as moving in circles and hardly producing any tangible result. Unless there is definite progress on the ground, what’s the purpose of holding these talks?

Datta-Ray too wants to see Pakistan deliver more. He says, “For these initiatives to actually work on the ground, Pakistan has to be able to demonstrate that it too can match India.” But when it comes to Pakistan, many believe that even India has limited options.

Happymon Jacob, assistant professor at Jawaharlal Nehru University’s School of International Studies agrees that past experiences with Pakistan weren’t good and scepticism with any dialogue process is bound to creep. Yet he maintains that “sometimes process is itself the product” and “it is better to be talking to each other peacefully and graciously, even when there is not tangible outcome in sight, than working to sabotage each other.”

True, a divided Pakistan doesn’t augur well for India and talking is better than not talking at all with a nuclear-armed neighbour which many see on the verge of becoming a failed state. Ignoring Pakistan’s civilian regime for long will further alienate them from the masses which are falling prey to Islamist radicals increasingly becoming the mainstream. Increasing trade and commerce will help to create peace dividend and reduce focus on political disputes.

“The choice for Indian diplomacy is dual. We can discuss with Pakistan issues that are highly charged and extremely difficult to unravel. But this will take us nowhere because we will continue to pander to history and unfortunately there is very little in that history to make for reconciliation or to solve the problems that plague us today,” explains Datta-Ray.

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