The ‘Mohali spirit’ - Asif Ezdi - Monday, April 04, 2011

As Pakistan-India summits go, Mohali was a rather lacklustre event. Even the previous two meetings of leaders as uncharismatic as Gilani and Manmohan Singh, held at Sharm El-Sheikh (July 2009) and Thimphu (April 2010), were not completely lacking in drama. But Mohali was different. There were no particularly memorable moments or words and the meeting produced little beyond the usual verbiage about the importance of dialogue to resolve outstanding issues.

Manmohan did try some originality by calling for ‘permanent reconciliation’, as if to reject any notion of temporary reconciliation. Gilani also showed some innovativeness. The two prime ministers, he said, had discussed “all core issues”. (He seems not to know that for Pakistan there is only one ‘core issue’: Kashmir.) Even more striking, Gilani did not once utter the word Kashmir in his public remarks in India. It is to be hoped that all this is a reflection not of a change of Pakistan’s stance but of Gilani’s lack of grasp of national policy issues, even one as central as Kashmir.

Gilani also made another innovation. He told the Indian prime minister that Pakistan and India must take ‘ownership’ of the issues between them, apparently echoing what has been the traditional Indian line aimed at excluding the ‘internationalisation’ of Kashmir. But as the foreign ministry’s spokesperson indicated later, Gilani’s remarks were meant to rule out a role by a third country like the US in the resolution of our disputes with India. Our leaders, including Gilani himself, have in the past been pleading for US mediation in resolving the Kashmir issue. Whatever reason there might have been for such appeals at one time, there is none any longer, in view of the new strategic partnership between India and the US, and of Washington’s recent tilt towards India on Kashmir.

Despite the improved atmospherics of Pakistan-India relations as a result of the Mohali summit, there is little reason for optimism as far as issues of importance to Pakistan are concerned. India’s focus will remain on enhanced trade and travel between the two countries and across the Line of Control and on modest ‘confidence-building measures’. The foreign ministry’s one-line press release saying only that the summit was a ‘win’ for the dialogue process is an appropriate and realistic assessment of what to expect (and what not to expect) from Mohali.

The Indian foreign secretary tried to exude much more enthusiasm in her briefing of the media and gushed about the “Mohali spirit, an extremely positive and encouraging spirit that has been generated as a result of today’s meeting”. Only a day earlier, Indian Home Secretary Pillai had spoken in similar superlative terms of his two-day meeting in New Delhi with his Pakistani counterpart. These talks, Pillai said, had been ‘extremely positive’ and had significantly reduced the trust deficit between the two countries. For his part, Rehman Malik congratulated his ‘brother’, Indian Home Minister Chidambaram, on the successful conclusion of the meeting between the interior secretaries.

One reason given by India for its unusually upbeat assessment of these talks, mainly for diplomatic reasons, was Pakistan’s agreement, in principle, to receive a commission from India “with respect to Mumbai terror attack investigations”. The modalities and composition of the commission are yet to be worked out but the Indian side claims that Pakistan has pledged to provide voice samples of the alleged plotters of the Mumbai attacks, as India has been demanding. There is considerable scepticism in Delhi that Pakistan would deliver on this ‘promise’. The Indians suspect that ‘judicial roadblocks’ might be put up to stop the delivery of the voice samples.

But India is playing down these misgivings and has agreed to allow a Pakistani commission to visit India to talk to Ajmal Kasab and the Indian investigators of the Mumbai attack. India has also provided some information gathered by it in the investigation of the Samjhauta Express bombing by Hindu extremists and promised some more.

The Indian government clearly does not want to allow Pakistan’s alleged ‘foot-dragging’ in punishing the perpetrators of the Mumbai attacks to stall the resumed dialogue process. Despite pressure from the opposition BJP not to delink talks from the ‘terrorist threat’ from Pakistan, the Indian prime minister did not play up the terrorism issue at Mohali. He said only that an atmosphere free of violence and terror was needed in order to enable true normalisation of relations to be achieved, a far cry from the earlier demand for a dismantling of the ‘terrorist infrastructure’ before dialogue could be resumed.

In fact, India is now keen to open a dialogue also with the Pakistan army and the ISI in order to ‘deepen engagement’ between the two countries. For this purpose, the Indian high commissioner at Islamabad has reportedly been instructed to open channels of communication with the army chief and the ISI director general.

This is not the first time that Delhi has broached this idea. Earlier, in July 2009, Manmohan Singh had ‘disclosed’ to a group of Indian journalists that the Indian high commissioner had met the ISI chief to discuss resumption of talks between the two countries. This was denied by unnamed sources in ISI. Later that year (September 2009), Pasha again featured in the Indian press after he attended an iftar reception hosted by the high commissioner.

Manmohan Singh’s invitation to Gilani was plainly a ploy to give a boost to the resumed dialogue with Pakistan without appearing to be softening India’s demand on giving terrorism the foremost priority. A dialogue with Pakistan is important for India not because it is dying for normalisation of relations with Pakistan but because without engagement with Pakistan, Delhi will find it very difficult to achieve ‘normalisation’ in Occupied Kashmir. Having quelled Kashmiri militancy through brute force, Delhi is now looking for credible Kashmiri interlocutors with whom it could make another agreement like the Indira-Abdullah agreement of 1975 granting greater autonomy to the occupied state. Ideally, Manmohan would like to revive the back-channel negotiations on Kashmir started under Musharraf so that Pakistan is also brought on board. But if Pakistan is not agreeable, Manmohan would like to make a deal with the ‘moderate’ faction of the APHC. This would be facilitated if Pakistan adopts a neutral attitude towards such a deal, something that would be easier to achieve if Pakistan is engaged in a sustained wide-ranging dialogue.

Fortunately for Manmohan, Pakistan’s current government, like Musharraf before him, is focused mainly on finding ways of prolonging its own rule and has been neglecting the Kashmir cause. India is no doubt pleased that even on the massive human rights abuses being committed by the Indian forces, on which some international human rights organisations like Amnesty International have been quite vocal, the Pakistan government has been mostly silent. Delhi is especially encouraged by the fact that Pakistan has not raised the Kashmir issue in international fora, apart from the UN General Assembly last September.

Popular sentiment in Occupied Kashmir can be gauged from the fact that Pakistan’s victory over the West Indies in the World Cup quarter-final was celebrated with fire crackers but India’s win against Australia passed ‘without a murmur’, as a Western news agency reported, apart from some crackers lit under official orders by the Central Reserve Police of India. While Gilani and Manmohan were watching the Pakistan-India semi-final, together with hundreds of millions of other Pakistanis and Indians, orders had been issued to enforce Section 144 strictly in Srinagar and public screening of the match was banned across Kashmir in order to avert an outbreak of anti-India demonstrations.

The British weekly, the Economist, wrote last December that Western leaders, keen to keep India ‘onside’ against China and greedy for its markets, have kept disgracefully quiet about human-rights abuses in Kashmir. Gilani’s silence on Kashmir at Mohali was worse. It was shameful, scandalous, and outrageous.

How can we blame Obama, Cameron and Sarkozy for something of which our own leaders are equally guilty?

The writer is a former member of the Pakistan Foreign Service. Email:

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