x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

Indo-Pak talks a good first step

Did they achieve anything at all? In this case, to jaw-jaw is better than to war-war.

India wanted to talk terrorism. Pakistan wanted a more comprehensive agenda, a resumption of the so-called "composite dialogue" that was derailed by the attack on Mumbai in 2008. In their first official talks since, neither side emerged satisfied, but that is how diplomacy often works. For two nuclear-armed nations with such a troubled history, it is enough that they are talking. It is unclear what India hoped to accomplish by focusing the talks on attacks by Pakistan-based militants. The demands India is making are not realistic, and could hamper progress towards the larger goal of peace. India reportedly called for the arrest and extradition of Hafiz Saeed, the Jamaat ud Dawa chief and alleged ideological leader of Lashkar-i-Taiba. While this would be a coup for the Indian prime minister Manmohan Singh and would probably open a wider path to peace, Pakistan cannot possibly meet this demand. Pakistan has itself tried to convict Saeed on numerous occasions, but charges have always been dropped for insufficient evidence. If Pakistan failed to convict Saeed, it can hardly justify extraditing him to a country that is, nominally, its archenemy.

For its part, Pakistan's desire to resume comprehensive peace talks also portrayed an unjustifiable level of optimism. Indians are rightly outraged at what occurred in Mumbai 15 months ago, and their politicians do not have the public's support for peace talks. Talks about terrorism are perhaps the best New Delhi could offer. Pakistan wants to talk about water, interstate commerce and a referendum on Kashmiri autonomy - that is what it needs to address for both political and economic reasons. However, the first principle of diplomacy is to ask yourself what your opponent wants, not what you want.

By any normal measures, these discussions would be seen as an unproductive photo opportunity. But given the deficit of trust between the two that is the legacy of both partition and recent events, this is where they must begin. It is heartening that the governments of India and Pakistan acknowledge the need for peace and are willing to meet formally and in public. If they continue doing so, the prospects will only improve.