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July 13, 1999
Indo-Pak ties have been set back 10 years
Amberish K Diwanji in New Delhi
Despite Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharief's call for India and Pakistan to resume their dialogue at the earliest, in fact as soon as the Pakistani troops withdraw from the Indian side of the Line of Control, such talks are unlikely to be held for the next four months at least.
In his televised address to Pakistan yesterday, Sharief had pleaded for giving peace a chance. "I tell Prime Minister Vajpayee, come, let's talk. Come, let's take our people away from the path of war, let's sit across the table and find paths to a better future. We have wasted too much time already, let's not delay things further. Let us save our peoples from war and give them a peaceful and secure life."
Yet, the mood in South Block is cold and grim. Worse than the wounds of war is the searing hurt of what can only be called a betrayal. External Affairs Minister Jaswant Singh hinted as much when he said recently, "Transgressions of the Line of Control are easier to heal than transgressions of trust."
Singh was referring to the Lahore bus ride, which has now been all but forgotten. A senior official in the external affairs ministry said, "In the Lahore bus diplomacy, Jaswant Singh took personal interest. He, or for that matter anyone else, is not going to forget Kargil in a hurry. Trusting the leaders of Pakistan again will take a long, long time."
As if to prove the point, India has hardened its stance on the Pakistani withdrawal. It has said categorically that the Pakistani forces must withdraw to "well north of the LoC", which means a few kilometres beyond. Then India will verify that all the intruders have actually left. And India also wants a guarantee that Islamabad will henceforth respect the entire LoC. (Incidentally, Sharief made no mention in his speech yesterday that he considers the LoC sacrosanct.)
Further, India has declared that assistance to terrorists to infiltrate into India means a breach of the LoC and said it must stop. For a battered Pakistan, stopping support to the terrorists in Kashmir is virtually out of the question.
Only after such formalities are completed and intentions made clear will New Delhi even think of resuming talks.
"India-Pakistan relations have been put back at least 10 years," said an official of the ministry. "You can't hold peace talks one day, wage war the next, and then again demand peace talks."
Officially, of course, New Delhi will make all the necessary soothing noises about how it is keen for peace and for resuming the Lahore process.
"By the time the Pakistani withdrawal is completed and verified by the Indian Army, it will be the end of this month. Then elections are due and all the politicians will be too busy campaigning to even bother about holding talks with Pakistan," said the official. "Anyway, working out the details for fresh talks will take time."
Also, with the Atal Bihari Vajpayee government now only a caretaker, it can very truthfully say it is in no position to negotiate with Pakistan unless elections are held and a new government is formed.
Thus, the earliest that any talks between India and Pakistan can resume is November. In many ways, this time gap is good as it will help cool down emotions among the people. It will also help the defence forces and the external affairs ministry monitor Pakistan's intention and activities before resuming talks.
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