Outgoing Foreign Secretary Nirupama Rao’s open acknowledgement of positive ‘change’ in Pakistan’s attitude towards India marks the beginning of end of an acrimonious chapter in bilateral relationship resulting from the Mumbai attacks of November, 2008. Rao was recently in Islamabad where she held talks with her Pakistani counterpart Salman Bashir at which they also discussed the Kashmir issue after a long pause. Although the two foreign secretaries did not announce any concrete outcome of their meeting both gave sufficient indication that they had succeeded in reviving the spirit of mutual accommodation. Now Rao’s statement confirms that some substantial progress had indeed been achieved at the Islamabad talks. Rao’s assertion that India should and would be taking note of change in Pakistan’s outlook is quite reassuring. Bilateral official meetings since November, 2008 had largely been unproductive because India felt that Pakistan was not serious in addressing Indian concerns over terrorism. Rao’s statement shows that this reservation has largely been overcome. It was a major stumbling block that is out of the way.
More specifically, India as well as America and the European Union have been expressing concern over two issues: One, that the non-state actors in Pakistan were being allowed to have a free run across the borders and two, that sections of Pakistani intelligence and military establishment were playing foul by colluding with radicals. A series of fast moving developments in the wake of the May 2 Abottabad incident in which Osama Bin Laden was killed has substantially changed internal equations within the power structure in Pakistan. There are visible signs of change in the body language of both, civilian set-up and military establishment. Recent arrest of a Pakistan army Brigadier for his alleged links with radical elements is a pointer in that direction. Pakistan has been feeling the heat of letting a dubious image of itself haunt the world at large. With US pullout from Afghanistan in the air, Pakistan had to visualise its internal scenario in a larger perspective. Its desire to play a role in the affairs of its western neighbour willy nilly depends upon its ability to balance its relationship with its eastern neighbour. In both cases, the issue of terrorism tops the list. Abottabad incident has brought home the hazards of obfuscation over this issue. Civil society in Pakistan has become more strident in demanding a course correction in order to free the country from the vicious grip of radicalism. It is beginning to have impact on alignment of forces within Pakistan.
An added and immediate significance of Rao’s statement is that the general climate appears to be getting better for resuming serious talks on the Kashmir issue. First indication, no doubt, came even earlier when the two foreign secretaries agreed, after a long break, to discuss Kashmir as a separate issue. The issue is back on the table after nearly three years. Some progress had been made over the three year period (2004-2007). Historically, the nature of India-Pakistan relationship is such that the overall atmosphere for bilateral engagement remains highly susceptible to inclination towards the Kashmir issue. Right now, conditions seem to be changing for the better.
The ground situation in Jammu and Kashmir is always sensitive to atmospherics on the subcontinent. It is after a long time and huge human losses that conditions are beginning to look up. Time is of as great importance as the honesty of purpose in obvious fulfilling imperatives of Nirupama Rao’s statement.