Motive behind India’s offer?

India’s proposal for talks at foreign sectary level sounds intriguing, because since the dialogue was stalled after Mumbai attacks, Pakistan had been fervently trying to persuade India to start the dialogue, but India took the position that first of all the mastermind of the attack should be tried and executed, evidence or no evidence.

Anyhow, Pakistan has accepted the Indian offer for foreign secretary-level talks with the caveat that it should be a step towards a full engagement on important issues, including Kashmir and terrorism. Analysts and commentators are speculating as to what has made India to change its mind. Is it on American prodding or India has realized that the way to reach Afghanistan and Central Asian republics is through Pakistan? Or in view of forthcoming Commonwealth Games, it wanted to create an atmosphere so that other countries should not feel security concern. Whatever the case may be, Pakistan must insist that the secretary-level meeting should set the dates for resumption of composite dialogue, and that India should stop building dams on Pakistani rivers – Chenab and Jhelum, because it would make Pakistan a wasteland. And it could lead to war between the two nuclear states.

Though India managed to force President Barack Obama to procrastinate his vision on South Asia yet Obama after weighing all the options have made a move in that direction and unveiled his plans in a televised speech from the US Military Academy at West Point stating that his new policy was designed to bring war in Afghanistan to a successful conclusion. The most significant part of Obama’s speech was his acknowledgement that “success in Afghanistan was inextricably linked to Washington’s partnership with Pakistan”. Some analysts were of the opinion that this was a piece of rhetoric, but President Obama had expressed his resolve “to have partnership with Pakistan built on a foundation of mutual interests, mutual respect, and mutual trust”, which is the only way that the US can salvage its position. There is no denying that American leadership takes decisions to advance its global interests, however some change is visible in Obama administration’s policy as compared with former president George Bush’s policy, as the latter had put India on a very high pedestal.

In fact, India understood its place in the international arena, when President Obama and President Hu Jintao met in November 2009 in Beijing. A paragraph in the joint communiqué had welcomed Chinese involvement in South Asia and mentioned about “Beijing’s ability to promote peace, stability and development in the region”. Many analysts in India and elsewhere see India having lost the centrality it enjoyed during the period when former president George Bush was at the helm, who had asseverated to make India not only a regional power but also a world power. Though Chinas has recently expressed its displeasure over the US arms deal for more than $ 6 billion with Taiwan, yet America considers China as an important trading partner and a creditor having invested almost a trillion dollars in US Treasury Bonds and other portfolios. B Raman a former top Indian intelligence official and head of the Centre for Topical Studies in Chennai said: “The ground reality is India at the moment does not count for the US in the same way that China and Pakistan do”. The recent London Conference on the future of Pakistan has ignored India considering that it has no role so far as Afghanistan is concerned.

There is a lot of frustration in Indian leadership hierarchy because international community did not see any role for India in the new policy which was obvious from the communiqué released after the London Conference on the future of Afghanistan attended by about 70 countries. In fact, it was India that had rejected with disdain President Obama’s policy for the region when he announced Richard Holbrooke as envoy for Afghanistan Pakistan and India. Perhaps now it has realized that American presence in Afghanistan is not going to last very long. And Pakistan could become a conduit to the reconciliation between the Afghan government and the Taliban, provided they are ready to give them rightful share in the government. In other words, whatever scenario emerges it does not have any role in Afghanistan. In this backdrop, India will try to sabotage the reconciliation efforts clandestinely using its clout over the Northern Alliance. Nevertheless, it had no choice but to announce its decision to back the efforts for talks with the Taliban to showcase its desire for peace in Afghanistan. There is a perception that India’s initiative is damage limitation exercise in view of Deepak Kapoor’s ‘two front war’ statement.

An English daily has carried the news quoting a source close to Friday’s meeting between Indian Foreign Secretary Nirupama Rao and Pakistan’s High Commissioner Shahid Malik that foreign secretaries level meeting is on cards, adding that the venue was not an issue and only the timing was being tweaked, possibly for late February. According to Indian reports Ms Rao’s proposal to discuss “all outstanding issues affecting peace and security, including counter-terrorism” was made in a telephone call to her Pakistani counterpart Salman Bashir two weeks ago. Even before the call Ms Rao had etched out India’s revised stance on the resumption of talks with Pakistan. In a TV interview in mid-January she stated that dialogue was “obviously the way forward for normalisation of relations and to resolve outstanding issues between the two countries”. Diplomats keenly watching the resumption of talks between the two countries feel that there may be little to write home about because Indian foreign secretary had recently hinted that increase in violence in Kashmir was due to the infiltration from Pakistani side. It has to be remembered that Indian leaders were not willing to even talk about local connection in the Mumbai blasts.

Though India’s Home Minister P. Chidambaram has conceded the other day that investigators had known for some time that attackers had local handler, yet he tried to create confusion by adding that “the handler could have infiltrated into India and lived enough to acquire an Indian accent and learned Indian Hindi words”. In a way, he again blamed Pakistan. Problem is that on every terrorist act in India, its government, opposition and the media start propaganda blitz to mobilize the world public opinion that Pakistan is behind all acts of terrorism in India.

On the other hand Pakistani foreign office, government functionaries and political leaders are all on the defensive. And even when Pakistan has substantive proof of India’s involvement in its support to insurgency in Balochistan, they keep mum. Our foreign minister and interior minister have many a time said that Indian RAW is involved in acts of terrorism but they would not be discharging their duties unless they present this proof to the international community. So far as Indian offer for dialogue is concerned, it could be only posturing to the world that India is a peace-loving country and wants to resolve issues through dialogue. But there is no speck of evidence of India’s good intentions. Anyhow, there is no way out but to restart the dialogue and keep the fingers crossed. Mohammad Jamil

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