Talks with Pakistan a gamble?

The upcoming Indo-Pak talks aim at breaking the impasse in bilateral ties and forming a consensus on various issues of conflict.

Ritesh K Srivastava

On February 25, India and Pakistan will hold foreign secretary level talks with the aim to break the impasse in bilateral ties and form a consensus on various issues of conflict between the two hostile nations.

With only few days left for talks, Indian bureaucratic circles are making all efforts to create an atmosphere that is conducive for meaningful talks.

However, it seems that this time too, the ruling dispensation has not learnt any lessons from its past mistakes of relying on Pakistan’s double speak of co-operation and peaceful co-existence at one hand and its constant support to anti-India activities on the other. Else there has to be the US pressure working.

On the diplomatic front, the government’s decision to revamp ties with its hostile neighbour by giving diplomacy a chance can be praised as a goodwill gesture from New Delhi, particularly at a time when bilateral ties have suffered a major setback after the Mumbai and Pune terror attacks.

This could also be seen as a carefully calibrated move by the Indian government to defeat extremist forces by engaging Pakistan in parleys for resolution of all issues that trouble the two nations.

The concerned ministries have nearly finalized the issues which are likely to be addressed when the foreign secretaries of the two sides face each other. Foreign Secretary Nirupama Rao has already clearly stated that terror will top the agenda.

However, the Centre’s sudden U-turn in inviting Pakistan for the resumption of dialogue has taken many of us by surprise since it has time and again reiterated that there will be no direct dialogue till Islamabad punishes the masterminds of Mumbai terror attacks.

The country’s opposition, led by BJP, has severely criticized the UPA government for its decision to hold talks with Pakistan, especially in the aftermath of terrorist blast in Pune and rising cross border infiltration bids by Pak-trained militants.

Stepping up its attack on the UPA government, the BJP has even asked the Prime Minister to call off Indo-Pak peace talks since Pakistan has repeatedly failed to fulfil its promises of curbing terrorism and dismantling the terror network flourishing on its soil.

Defying opposition pressure, the UPA government has clearly stated that it is determined for the success of the upcoming talks and the Pune terror blast will not be allowed to overshadow the much-publicised event.

The UPA’s change of stance on the issue has certainly fuelled Centre’s confrontation with the combined opposition, which says that India will gain nothing from what it termed “misconceived” and “adventurist” measures.

What has further disappointed the opposition leaders is the recent announcement by Home Minister P Chidambaram that the government is willing to rehabilitate militants surrendering from Pakistan Occupied Kashmir (PoK).

So what does it mean? Is the government working under constant US influence or it is being forced to share the negotiating table with Pakistan as the only way forward for easing tension in the region?

Some political observers have also not ruled out the UPA government’s compulsion in inviting Pakistan for holding parleys, which will indirectly serve a much bigger interest of the US and the UK in the war-ridden Afghanistan-Pakistan region.

At this juncture, the US administration has cleverly distanced itself from acting as intermediaries between Islamabad and New Delhi. However, it has welcomed the upcoming Indo-Pak talks aimed at addressing mutual concerns, reducing tensions and increasing cooperation needed for stability in the Indian subcontinent.

The US’ act of balancing both India and Pakistan is mainly due to Washington’s strategic interest in Afghanistan, where it certainly requires the increased support of the two nations in dismantling the Taliban militia and in the reconstruction of the war-torn state.

So it would not be wrong to say that the US administration will be keeping a close eye on the outcome of talks since it will have a direct bearing on the situation in Afghanistan.

At the moment, the US looks more concerned about Afghanistan and that’s why Washington’s special Representative to Af-Pak Richard Holbrooke, has recently given more weightage to India’s stand on Kashmir and also endorsed New Delhi’s stake, clearly annoying Pakistan.

``The Indians have a legitimate series of security interests in that region, as do a number of other countries, including, of course, Pakistan, China and all the other countries that neighbour Afghanistan,`` Holbrooke said at a briefing for the international media. ``And any search for a resolution of the war in Afghanistan requires that the legitimate security interests of every country be understood and taken into account.``

In a tactical support to India, Holbrooke even declined to endorse the general perception that resolving the Kashmir issue is central to US success in Afghanistan and that too at a time when Islamabad is hell bent on putting it back on the front-burner.
Washington’s new found love for New Delhi is nothing but its fear that if India continues on its “no-talks policy” it would enable Pakistan’s all powerful ISI in upping the ante and build up a hostile environment that would jeopardize US goals in Afghanistan.

In view of national security interest, it is clear that terror and talks cannot go hand in hand. It would not be totally wrong to say that at a time when terrorism still threatens India, `not talking` could have been a legitimate diplomatic option and would have created more pressure on Pakistan.

Considering Pakistan’s past records where it has deceived us every time, no body actually knows whether New Delhi is committing a mistake by inviting Pakistan to the negotiation table or not.
Every time our leaders have taken concerted efforts to improve ties with Islamabad, we were stabbed in our back. The irony between India and Pakistan has been that of late we have become stooges in the hands of world powers and have been dictated by them in one way or the other to serve their vested interests.

Every nation wants a meaningful and concrete relationship with its neighboring states, but that should not come at the cost of its sovereignty, integrity and its own interests.

Let us hope that Pakistan this time takes some concrete steps that will build confidence and trust in its ties with India and infuse a new sense of hope of a peaceful co-existence.

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