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We could have gone farther

Publication Date : 19-09-2012

 

When Pakistan Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar suggests that they are willing to view Kashmir from "another angle" to tackle the thorniest problem and Indian Foreign Minister S.M. Krishna changes the subject, it means that Islamabad has overcome pressures from within. Of course, Foreign Minister Khar's remark is primarily meant to reopen the problem which remains frozen. Yet the mere suggestion of "another angle" indicates a new confidence that the tottering Pakistan President Asif Ali Zardari government has assumed.

Therefore, the relaxation in visa facilities, limited no doubt, may be a small step in the long haul to a visa-less environment but it is, indeed, a positive development. "I promise you a borderless regime," the late Benazir Bhutto told me a few days before she left London for Pakistan. I am sure she would have tried her best if she had lived but ultimately she would have been defeated by the intelligence agencies which still rule the roost.

The intelligence agencies on both sides have seen to it that the visa possessors follow the same old humiliating process of reporting at a police station in the midst of jibes and threatening postures. It is apparent that there is no change in their attitude of suspicion and hostility. Several visitors may still be happy because the choice before them has either been a visa or no visa. I believe that senior citizens above the age of 65, who will get visa on arrival, will be exempt from police report. And so will be the children below the age of 12.

Yet the most important point that Indian foreign minister and his counterpart have missed is how to deal with terrorism which is on the rise in both the countries. Who is more to blame or who started it first does not help at this time because the Frankenstein of a monster is on the prowl. Instead of reviving the joint commission for cooperation in various fields, the two countries would have done better to underline the serious proportions which terrorism has assumed. For this, a joint commission on terrorism alone -- pooling of intelligence and fighting against terrorists together -- would have given a stern message to the trouble makers.

That no such machinery was ever proposed is enough of a proof to the yawning differences over the 26/11 attacks in Mumbai. Krishna wanted the perpetrators to be brought to book quickly to soothe the hurt of people in Maharashtra and elsewhere in India. Hina apparently had her own compulsions and merely said: "We will not brood over divergences." My feeling is that the punishment of the culprits, especially Hafeez Sayed, the LeT chief, is a litmus test for India to judge Pakistan's earnestness.

Once the Pakistan judicial commission revisits Mumbai to cross-examine witnesses of 26/11 attacks, the cases should move quickly. Islamabad should be seen to be keen to punish the guilty because the visit of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to Pakistan, rightly or wrongly, has got linked to the outcome of the 26/11 cases in the Pakistani courts. Krishna, more or less, said so when he was asked by even President Zardari how soon would the Indian prime minister come to his village near Jhelum in Pakistan.

The positive side of the meeting far excels the negative. Things would have proceeded faster but for the lack of preparations on the part of New Delhi. My information is that India's foreign office did not know how far Islamabad was willing to accommodate us. Pakistan Army chief Ashfaq Parvez Kayani had given the Zardari government, more or less, a cart blanche because Kayani wants to fight against the Taliban single-mindedly. He has even withdrawn troops from the Indian border to put them on the Waziristan front. India realises that it indicates Kayani's confidence in normalising relations with New Delhi. This was the best opportunity which we should have grabbed with both hands to reach an agreement on Sir Creek which Islamabad was ready to sign. One thing would have led to another.

Foreign Minister Krishna considers that India has achieved a lot. "Two years ago, Pakistan rejected the step-by-step approach when we suggested it. Now that is being adopted by both countries," said Krishna in a separate briefing for the large Indian media contingent travelling with him. In contrast, Pakistan Foreign Minister Khar did not contradict him but said the two countries were now seeking to build on convergences through the dialogue process. She did not want to go into history because she said she was born after 1971 war. Khar really wanted to shed the historical baggage that the two countries have been carrying for the last six decades.

The real achievement of the meeting between the two foreign ministers is to introduce a new category of a visa -- Business. This was long overdue. Had businessmen been allowed to trade from day one, the relations between India and Pakistan would have got normalised by this time. India's huge market is looking for customers to sell the products. Pakistan, on its part, more or less bottled up so far, is keen the break the shackles of steep tariff walls to reach India.

Another good development is the music competition among young singers of the two countries. Unfortunately, the Shiv Sena and its associate Raj Thackrey are so obsessed with the anti-Pakistan bitterness in which they have consumed themselves that they are threatening to stop the competition. The attitude of the Mumbaiwala should be that the dogs bark and the caravan passes on. The initiative taken by young singers on both sides is an example for politicians to emulate.

What still baffles me is why the two foreign ministers have failed to agree on the exchange of newspapers from both sides. Even the sale of books of one country to another has escaped a solution. These instances underline a trust deficit. Unless both countries try to narrow the gap of suspicion no liberalisation of visa would be of any help. To begin with, both sides should go through each other's text books and delete the portions which evoke hatred and suspicion. The meeting of the two foreign ministers may well be a missed opportunity. It could have achieved more.

The writer is an eminent Indian journalist.

 

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