Exploring deadlock

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The India Pakistan dialogue seems to have broken before it was restarted, but Indian side suggests its agenda was exploratory and the results were good. Iftikhar Gilani reports.
The Islamabad meeting between the Foreign Ministers may have ended in a “deadlock”, but New Delhi has managed to extract commitment from Islamabad to build on the progress achieved prior to 2008, a reference to former Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf’s peace process. External Affairs Minister S. M. Krishana seems to have embarked on an “exploratory visit” to probe whether Pakistan was ready to pick up threads, following statements from its leaders that Musharraf formula had neither popular nor parliamentary sanction. Both the Pakistan Peoples’ Party government and opposition Pakistan Muslim League (PML) are wary of accepting the legacy of Musharraf.
 Describing that talks were exploratory in nature, official sources privy to negotiations attributed Qureshi’s assertion and recognition of progress made between 2004 and 2008 an achievement and a good thing coming out of the dialogue. Earlier, Qureshi during his public statements had reviled this progress.
 Despite what TV channels would like the public to believe in both countries, Indian government sources express need for a “warm up session” before actually launching a full-fledged dialogue process with Pakistan, suggesting embarking on some “doable and small Confidence Building Measures (CBMs),” till Islamabad shows some action on Mumbai investigations to reassure Indian public.
 Detailing the sense of deliberations at Islamabad between the two Foreign Ministers, official sources privy to negotiations rejected there was a “deadlock’, saying, “What came out of talks is we understood terrain much better.” They believed that India’s approach at the talks was realistic and practical based on incremental progresses and focusing on doable. But Pakistan was insisting progress on every thing “We told them to consider what traffic can bear,” they added.
Official sources also ruled out impression that India was not ready to talk on Kashmir, Siachen and other issues, but kept focusing only on terrorism and Mumbai investigations. “We never ruled out dialogue on Kashmir, Siachen and other issues of Pakistan’s concern. We said building trust will be a catalyst to move forward in these areas as well. We believe there is need to warm up before the process is actually launched. We cannot reach the intensity if there is no warm up,” they stated. “We had clear idea what is doable. We had gone into lots of preparations. Let degree of normalcy return. We wanted to start with trade, economic exchange modest CBMs. We are also willing to talk on other issues as well, they wanted,” said Indian government sources.
  India during the talks had also offered to address Pakistan’s water issues at the secretary-level. When they raised the issue of water and Indus Water Treaty, we offered them we can raise the level of this dialogue to secretary level, if they want.
Sources also denied that the Thimpu spirit woven by two prime minister few months ago has been compromised. “We will pick up threads where we left in Islamabad,” they said. Also India had gone to talks with clear mandate foretelling Pakistan what they are expecting from the dialogue and what they will raise at the table.  “We went with clear mandate. We have made very clear where we stood. We had informal discussions with Pakistan through diplomatic channels and they knew what we meant. There were no surprises,” they added.
 While calling for a serious, sustained and comprehensive dialogue, sources said the issue of terrorism could not be wished away. “We have also stated terrorism needs to be given proper focus. Mumbai was a too serious shock for nation to forget. We emphasised that point with Pakistan side that terror machine needs to be dismantled,” they added.
 On Pakistan argument that they are also victim of terrorism, government sources here said there can be no comparisons of suffering of two countries. “Our stand is we are suffering because of terrorism emanating from their soil. Mumbai attack, everything from planning to execution leads to their country. Their terrorism is their own making,” they maintained.
 On the issue of fixing a timeline for Mumbai investigations, sources affirmed that there was no such offer during talks. On the other side, it was actually Pakistan which wanted timeline for every issue. Diplomacy is life without maps. We cannot set timelines. We need to talk with one breath at one time,” they emphasised. .
 Sources said Pakistan’s expectations from these talks were unrealistic. “What Pakistan side was expecting did not fit in current context of relations. Pakistan has assured the Home Minister P Chidambaram 25 days ago on some counts. We are still awaiting progress on those. Once we see a little action on the front and Pakistan’s willingness to take action on our serious concerns, we can progress on every issue of concern,” they added.
 Rejecting that there was any acrimony during the talks, official sources said these were only media creations, stating that both Foreign Ministers attended dinner after the Islamabad press conference hosted by Indian High Commissioner. They, however, objected to the undiplomatic behaviour of Pakistan Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi after the talks and his press conference on Friday while Krishna was still in Pakistan.
 As both governments focused on sustaining dialogue, analysts here say Islamabad may have to reconcile that  making borders irrelevant’ approach is the only approach available. Analysts here are also watching closely the visit of US President Barack Obama in November. His visit is expected to make both countries to review their relations.
 Quoting from a recent Track-II meeting of the Pugwash group in Islamabad, noted journalist Sidharath Varadarajan writes that Pakistani and Indian analysts and former officials had an animated discussion on terrorism, Afghanistan, water, Kashmir and the nuclear issue. While the two sides disagreed and argued on virtually every subject, the discussions on terrorism produced some clarity. The Pakistani side spoke of the legal difficulties in handling terrorism cases, noting that the high-profile trials of terrorists involved in the bombing of the Marriot hotel in Islamabad and the assassination of the Surgeon-General had unfortunately ended in acquittals. A well-regarded criminal lawyer from Lahore spoke of the difficulties surrounding the trial of the LeT men accused of attacking Mumbai and made a plea for better coordination between the Pakistani and Indian authorities in that case.
The Indian side responded by noting that the fight against terror was only partially a legal one. And that what is needed is a demonstration of political will, something that is lacking in Islamabad’s feeble attempts to rein in anti-India terror groups. The Pakistani participants acknowledged this, but argued that their government was weak and couldn’t afford to open up too many fronts at the same time.
This, too, was disputed by the Indians. At the same time, there was general agreement that the legal case against the 26/11 accused had taken on a significance of its own, that the fragile dialogue process might not survive an acquittal and that, therefore, some coordinated effort needs to put in by both governments to ensure the best possible legal case is mounted against them.
Islamabad meeting was a longest ever tete-a-tete in recent past. They met in two sessions of three hour each. Taking aggressive tone at the press conference later Shah Mehmood Qureshi raked up issues like Kashmir, the current unrest, government imposing  restrictions etc. He even quoted Chief Minister Omar Abdullah supporting the peace process between the two countries to placate an Indian journalist.  He also slammed Home Secretary GK Pillai who had given a statement to a newspaper on that Pakistan’s ISI was revealed by David Headley to be behind the Mumbai attacks. “That was uncalled for,” he said.
Krishna responded diplomatically saying that not only J&K had a democratically elected government, there was an increase in infiltration from across LOC and Qureshi stepped in to almost shout that Pakistan did not support infiltration. “It is not our policy. Period. If there are individuals crossing the border, then the DGMOs of both sides should meet and handle the situation.”  Qureshi added that both countries were victims of terror and said they had agreed for a common approach towards this common enemy.  He also addressed India’s concerns vis-?-vis the trial of Mumbai attacks accused in Pakistan. “I discussed how we can hasten the on-going trial process of the accused,” he informed.

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A journalist with seven years of working experience in Kashmir.

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