The dialogue’s future – Editorial

мебелиFrom Dawn’s editor – A.G. Noorani Saturday, 08 May, 2010
The peace process which the prime ministers of India and Pakistan, Dr Manmohan Singh and Mr Yousuf Raza Gilani, renewed at Thimpu on April 29, has enormous potential provided that the parties realistically reckon with the hurdles and proceed unitedly with understanding and determination.
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Much depends on how they proceed between now and next September when the prime ministers are expected to meet in New York. India’s Home Minister P. Chidambaram is due to visit Islamabad next month, while meetings between the foreign ministers and foreign secretaries are mandated by the prime ministers themselves. They wisely discarded the traditional joint statement in traditional turgid prose. A careful reading of the statements by Pakistan’s Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi in Islamabad on April 30 and India’s Foreign Secretary Nirupama Rao in Thimpu on April 29, reveals an encouraging accord on the aims of the peace process and on the tacit assumptions underlying it.

First, as Mr Qureshi said, “there has been a trust deficit and we have to bridge it”, adding significantly “it can be done through confidence-building measures. It will not happen in a day. It is a process”. Presumably the foreign ministers and the foreign secretaries will devise the confidence-building measures. Ms Rao said “dialogue is the only way … [to] restore trust and confidence”. She revealed that the prime ministers “focused on the renewal of dialogue and to understand the factors that have resulted in the current state of affairs”. However, “the searchlight is on the future and not on the past”. She was accurately reflecting the policy towards Pakistan which Dr Manmohan Singh has resolutely pursued ever since he became prime minister in May 2004.

The distrust has two dimensions; recent and latent. Causes of the first are easy to identify (26/11). There is reason to believe that there is greater understanding now of the need to tackle them through judicial and investigative processes. Time and diplomacy have peeled away most layers of the latent distrust which had piled up since partition; but some survived. They are the ones to be tackled now.

There was on Pakistan’s part a legitimate impression that India was avoiding negotiations on Kashmir and stalling on the ones on other issues. I.K. Gujral’s wreckage of the charter of the composite dialogue in the joint statement in Islamabad on June 23, 1997 strengthened the impression. Militancy in Kashmir was by no means the only factor which led India to believe that Pakistan was not in earnest regarding conciliation. Both sides continued to fight on battlefields of old, unmindful of a promising change in the situation.If to many Pakistanis a ‘composite dialogue’ was a litmus test of India’s sincerity in putting 26/11 behind us, to many Indians, fed on the media’s blasts every day, its resumption meant surrender. In truth the charter had long run its course. Foreign secretaries can only do the ground work; they surely cannot resolve Kashmir, ‘peace and security’, Siachen, Wullar barrage, Sir Creek and ‘terrorism and drug-trafficking’ — the topics listed in para 4 of the charter.

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