For India and Pakistan, the divergence on traditional issues remains, but there is a search for new areas of convergence, believes B Raman
Diminishing malice is becoming the defining characteristic of Indo-Pakistan relations as our Foreign Minister S M Krishna flies to Islamabad on Friday for another joint review with Hina Rabbani Khar, his Pakistani counterpart, of the state of the continuing talks between officials of the two countries on bilateral issues that have been the stumbling block towards better relations.
The bilateral issues remain as they were, defying a substantive movement forward in the efforts to find a solution. This is so whether in respect of Jammu and Kashmir or the Siachen and Sir Creek issues or Pakistani inaction against the terrorists of the Lashkar-e-Tayiba, who masterminded the 26/11 terrorist strikes in Mumbai and are now supposed to be facing trial before an anti-terrorism court in Rawalpindi.
What has been changing is not the contour and the complexity of the bilateral issues, but the lingo and the rhetoric. The lingo is increasingly marked less by malice and more by friendship. The rhetoric is less mutually accusatory.
The periodic exchanges of allegations continue. India continues to level allegations of Pakistani insincerity in prosecuting the masterminds of the 26/11 terrorist strikes and of Islamabad not acting against the anti-India terrorist infrastructure in Pakistani territory. Pakistan continues to level allegations of foreign involvement in its internal security problems in Balochistan, without naming India.
Despite this, there is a discernible attempt by the two countries not to level fresh allegations that could add poison to the bilateral relations. One saw this in the aftermath of the recent violent incidents in Mumbai and Lucknow and the departure of a large number of people from north-east from South India and Pune for their homes due to nervousness caused by threats of retaliation against them for the recent anti-Muslim violence in Assam.
India continues to suspect that the psy-jihad propaganda backed by consciously exaggerated stories and morphed images, which led to the violence and the nervous exodus, originated from Pakistan, but the usual urge to blame Pakistan for such anti-Indian impulses has been kept under control. There has been an admission that the initial allegations made against the State of Pakistan by officials of the Union home ministry have not been corroborated by subsequent evidence. It was because of this that our Prime Minister Manmohan Sigh did not raise this issue, as he was originally expected to, in his talks with Pakistan President Asif Ali Zardari on the margins of the recent NAM summit in Tehran.
There have been fresh suspicions of possible Pakistani involvement in the activities of 18 Indian Muslim suspects taken into custody since August 29 in Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh and Maharashtra on charges of planning an assassination plot. But these suspicions are being articulated in a muted form and not from the roof-top so that they do not come in the way of the improving bilateral vibrations.
The vibrations are becoming better and better -- whether between the political leaders or civilian officials of the two countries. One can see a growing conviction among the political leaders and civilian officials of Pakistan that their anti-India reflexes have started becoming counter-productive. There is as yet no evidence to show that this conviction is shared by the Pakistan Army, which continues to dominate decision-making in matters related to India.
There is continuing suspicion in Pakistan Army and the Inter Services Intelligence about the intentions of India towards Pakistan. The diminution of anti-Indian malice is yet to be felt in the armed forces and the military intelligence agencies. Unless they realise the importance and benefits of relations marked less by malice and more by friendship, the increasing hopes of a better tomorrow in Indo-Pakistan relations may still be belied.
But even in the Army and the ISI, there has been no attempt to create complications in the efforts to find solutions to bilateral issues. The Army and the ISI have kept the terrorist weapon intact, but have not used it in Indian territory after 26/11.They have been creating for themselves fresh capabilities for violence and instability in Jammu and Kashmir as evidenced by the recent discovery of their attempts to construct tunnels for infiltration of terrorists into J&K, but they have refrained from creating fresh pockets of violence in the State.
The improvement in the ambiance marked by the greater focus on opportunities for bilateral trade and easier visa procedures shows a welcome shift away the political and civilian leadership in both the countries from the past policy of not letting new areas of convergence emerge till the areas of divergence have been satisfactorily tackled.
The divergence on traditional issues remains, but there is a search for new areas of convergence. The dialogue held by Krishna in Islamabad should keep the focus on this search for new areas of convergence.
The Pakistanis continue to be keen for an early visit by Dr Singh to their country. Since the visit of Atal Bihari Vajpayee to Islamabad in January 2004 to attend the SAARC summit, no Indian prime minister has gone there. The hopes that were there that he might now consider going despite the lack of progress on substantive issues and Pakistani inaction against terrorism have somewhat dimmed because of the uncertain political situation in India. One had the impression of seeing in Tehran an extra-cautious Dr Singh. His usually warm vibrations towards Pakistan were kept under check.
Despite this, one could hope for a continuance of the trend towards less malice in the bilateral relations as a result of the visit of our foreign minister.