Raising the India-Pakistan trust quotient

Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has repeatedly asked India to resume talks, which had snapped following the terrorist attack on Mumbai in November 2008. His brother, Chief Minister of Punjab, Shahbaz Sharif, has echoed the same sentiments during his visit to India’s Punjab state a few days ago. His advice to both the countries was to engage in a dialogue to settle their issues since war is no longer an option.

India’s External Affairs Minister, Salman Khurshid, too, has said that he is not against dialogues. But he has predicated his statement with a proviso that there should be an environment for the talks to be fruitful. He has probably in mind the contentious issues which continue to sour relations between the two nations.

One irritant is the attack on Mumbai. The manner in which Pakistan has gone about in not punishing the perpetrators shows that it is merely going over the exercise. The suit in the law court is still at the initial stage even after five years. Numerous judges hearing the case have been either transferred or probably told to go on leave.

I wish Pakistan’s for chief justice, Mohammad Iftikhar Chaudhary, who did a brilliant job in upholding his country’s constitution in letter and spirit, had taken up the matter suo moto before retiring a few days ago. Many lawyers may mock at the suggestion, but punishment to the 26/11 terrorists is a prerequisite to normal ties between the two countries.

Hafeez Sayeed, who India suspects to be the mastermind behind the plan to attack Mumbai and has been let off by the Pakistan court for lack of evidence, is urging a jihad against India.

Despite these negative factors, the common man in India has warmth towards Pakistan. Visitors returning to India from Pakistan endlessly talk about the hospitality and affection they had experienced there. Similar is the talk of love and generosity by the Pakistanis visiting India.

Therefore, the blame is on the politicians and bureaucrats for not burying the hatchet. They seem to have developed a vested interest in keeping the two countries distant. I find the same faces of politicians and bureaucrats, even after their retirement, are engaged in Track II dialogue.

One Pakistani bureaucrat with a similar thinking briefed the press the other day on Sharif’s warning that Kashmir could trigger a fourth war between India and Pakistan. Sharif’s office issued a contradiction soon enough, but the damage had already been done. Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, otherwise a mature politician, too reacted in an irresponsible manner. He said that "Pakistan could not win a war against India during his lifetime". I suspect his reaction was meant to show "strength" in view of forthcoming parliamentary elections.

What the Indian prime minister or the Congress party he represents does not realise is that even the Bharatiya Janata Party has stopped raising the anti-Pakistan bogey because there is lessening of response from the public. Some in the party or outside may be carrying the baggage of history – India’s partition in August 1947 – but the anti-Pakistan line does not sell any longer.

A wrong propaganda is sought to be made in Pakistan that the Indian media indulges in bashing it. This is not true. However, I wish there were more stories about Pakistan in the Indian media. But then the governments in both the countries are to blame. They have given visas only to one news agency and one newspaper. There is one television channel which adopts a war-like posture, but India has some 300 channels that report Pakistan as they do about other countries.

Where do we go from here? The two countries can join hands in fighting against the terrorists. Sharif has made a specific proposal that the two countries should institutionalise a mechanism of meetings between their national security advisers to discuss terrorism. At last, the two countries have fixed the meeting of Directors General of Military Operations (DGMOs) of the two countries to ensure the sanctity of Line of Control (LoC) on the Jammu and Kashmir border. This is a development in the right direction.

Still what is important at this juncture is how to inspire the two countries to trust each other. Sharif has rightly said that the real reason for estrangement is the "trust deficit" between the two countries. Many in Pakistan believe that the core problem is Kashmir. This is only a symptom, not the disease. Even if we manage to solve the Kashmir problem, some other problem will crop up if there is no trust in each other.

The two nations are rightly conscious of the destruction the nuclear weapons, which they possess, can cause. Hence they should solve their differences peacefully. This policy came to be adopted for the first time at Tashkent after the 1965 war between the two countries. The then Indian prime minister, Lal Bahadur Shastri, was insistent on adopting peaceful methods in sorting out the problems. The then Pakistan Martial Law administrator, General Mohammad Ayoub, said the requirement was met by referring it to the United Nations Charter. The draft joint statement carried the same words. Shastri made Ayoub write "without resorting to arms".

Islamabad has stated that the responsibility of honouring the LoC lies with the two governments. The reported reaction by New Delhi is that the LoC is a military matter, not a political issue. Had this response come from Pakistan, where the army has a major say, it would have been understandable. But how can a democratic India say that the armies on the two sides could decide it?

The LoC was firmed up at Shimla in a meeting between prime ministers Indira Gandhi and Zuflikar Ali Bhutto. The army commanders only demarcated on the ground the lines indicated in the agreement between the political masters. New Delhi should ponder over its stance once again so that the two countries move forward to normalise relations. This is what the situation demands.