x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

Meeting holds promise of thaw

Pakistani and Indian leaders meet for first time since the Mumbai attack last November and discuss terrorism.

Asif Ali Zardari, the Pakistani president, left, and Manmohan Singh, the Indian prime minister.
Asif Ali Zardari, the Pakistani president, left, and Manmohan Singh, the Indian prime minister.

MUMBAI // They met. They shook hands. And they exchanged tough words. Significantly, they promised to meet again. That by itself was enough to render the rare, 40-minute rendezvous between the Indian prime minister and Pakistani president a "positive development". For the first time since last November's terrorist attack in Mumbai, Manmohan Singh and Asif Ali Zardari sat down in the Silver Room of the Hyatt Regency to meet up on the sidelines of a multilateral summit in the Russian city of Yekaterinburg. As expected, the meeting was focused on the singular issue of terrorism, as will any future negotiations between the two nuclear rivals. There was no sweet-talking. Mr Singh conveyed India's growing frustration with Pakistan's inaction against the perpetrators of the Mumbai attack and exhorted him to take strong action against terrorist organisations on its soil. He also lamented the release of Hafiz Saeed, the suspected mastermind of the Mumbai attack. "We must get an assurance from Pakistan that its territory will not be used for terror against India," he told Mr Zardari. Despite the acrimony, observers point out that this meeting held the promise of a thaw between the two bitter rivals and could restart the stalled Indo-Pakistan dialogue process. The foreign secretaries of the two countries are expected to meet again in mid July. And Pakistan is pushing for a fully-fledged resumption of the dialogue process "Both countries stand to gain by resuming dialogue," said Shah Mehmood Qureshi, Pakistan's foreign minister. "It will be a sensible thing to resume dialogue as soon as possible. It will be in mutual interest to do so." India and Pakistan have both shared a tenuous relationship since independence, especially over the territorial dispute of Kashmir. They have met on numerous occasions, and promised to resolve the dispute, but the dialogue process was held hostage by the issue of terrorism. India has repeatedly accused Pakistan of not being serious enough to dislodge the terror infrastructure on its soil. From the late 1990s until the Mumbai attack, after waging two bloody wars over Kashmir, the two countries evinced a serious interest in negotiations. But the dialogue was rocked by a series of crises - nuclear tests conducted by India in 1998, followed by a similar set of tests by Pakistan. Relations nosedived after the 1999 Kargil war. And the two countries came perilously close to war after a brazen terrorist attack on the Indian parliament in 2002. However, in 2004, after the Congress-led coalition was sworn into office, the stalled process restarted to make some key gains. Both sides negotiated a framework for the settlement of the Kashmir. But, as expected, the process collapsed again after the Mumbai attacks. However, analysts point out that both countries are victims of terrorist attacks. Pakistan is nearly in the throes of a civil war, as it tackles an increasingly belligerent Taliban insurgency on its soil. Considering both countries face a common enemy, the two countries should work together and not cease the dialogue process every time a terrorist strike happens in India, they say. Mr Qureshi yesterday called for more international aid to combat the Taliban, saying the extremists pose a real threat of penetrating into India and the Gulf. "For India, there are only two interconnected objectives in Pakistan," said C Raja Mohan, a professor at the S Rajaratnam School of International Studies in Singapore. "They are to defeat those who organise violent extremism against India and promote a democratic transformation in Pakistan." All political energies must be directed towards these goals, he said, and not frittered away in secondary questions of procedure. "Indian policy towards Pakistan over much of the past decade has suffered from a fundamental flaw," Siddharth Varadarajan, the strategic affairs editor of The Hindu, wrote in a recent column. "We have been clear about our goal - the stopping of cross-border terrorism - but our preferred instrument for action - suspension of official dialogue and, at times, civil society engagement as well - does little to advance our 'core issue'." Vardarajan points out that Pakistan in its battle with the Taliban is indirectly waging a war with anti-India elements within its territory and it should therefore be supportive of the war the Pakistani army is waging, and thus encourage the dialogue process. Maintaining a posture of diplomatic hostility and a military high-alert do not help, he argues, nor do high-decibel or frequently repeated public demands for Pakistan to do more to fight terror. "India has to ask itself whether the war being waged in Swat is a real war. The answer is that it seems to be. Is it then in India's interest that the [Taliban] is fought and defeated? Yes." achopra@thenational.ae