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This round is for Pakistan

December 11, 2015 11:33 IST

'One cannot escape the conclusion that Pakistan has won the Paris-Bangkok-Islamabad round.'

'To be able to resume the composite dialogue even by another name without making any progress on the Mumbai attack trials is a dream come true for Pakistan,' says Ambassador T P Sreenivasan.

Narendra Modi and Nawaz Sharif

In the long and arduous struggle with Pakistan, it is transient victories that matter, not the final result, because no one knows what the ultimate result would be.

Considered from such a perspective, one cannot escape the conclusion that Pakistan has won the Paris-Bangkok-Islamabad round. To be able to resume the 'composite dialogue' even by another name, 'Comprehensive Bilateral Dialogue' without making any progress on the Mumbai attack trials, except a pious assurance of an 'early completion of the Mumbai trial' is a dream come true for Pakistan.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi was under international pressure in Paris to relent on his position that terrorism would be the only topic of conversation with Pakistan till the conspirators and perpetrators of the Mumbai attack were brought to book.

The talk of disproportionate use of force from the Indian side and the threat of using tactical nuclear weapons by Pakistan had alarmed the US, the UK and France, who got together to nudge the Indian and Pakistani prime ministers to resume the dialogue and that was possible only if India did not insist that the talks would not include Kashmir.

With that concession by India, Pakistan has succeeded in winning the approbation of its Western patrons by appearing to be eminently reasonable.

Resumption of the dialogue without any concession on terrorism was their objective. Though it was a sad commentary that the two neighbours had to go to Bangkok to hold the talks, Pakistan promptly seized the opportunity.

India's motives in making this concession are far from clear. External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj could have visited Islamabad for the Heart of Asia Conference without having to make any concession to Pakistan.

Enemies of the United States like Fidel Castro and Yasser Arafat visited New York for UN conferences without budging on their policies to the United States. As for the visit of the prime minister for the SAARC conference, this was already announced.

What was then the compulsion for India to rush to comprehensive talks?

No one expects that Pakistan will abandon the 'core issue' of Kashmir and agree on other matters, just as India cannot be expected to make concessions on Kashmir. The logic of the dialogue is only that even adversaries should remain in contact so that no nuclear weapons are launched on any misunderstanding.

Creating a facade of normalcy while firing continues on the border and terrorists keep infiltrating into India will only hurt India. But it helps Pakistan to get massive assistance from the West in the name of resolving the Afghan situation.

It is not insignificant that there was no decision in Islamabad to hold a Pakistan-India cricket match in Sri Lanka. Some partners of the ruling party are adamant that sporting contacts are undesirable as long as terrorism goes unabated.

But how will they accept a comprehensive dialogue, without any concession from Pakistan? Is the cancellation of the cricket match sufficient compensation for them to accept the dialogue?

The fact that the two sides 'condemned terrorism and resolved to cooperate to eliminate it' only blunts our pointed accusation that Pakistan is engaged in terrorism across the border, while the terrorism in Pakistan is home grown. The two cannot be equated, as was done in Sharm el Sheikh to the consternation of Indian public opinion.

Trade and commerce are said to be the underlying motive, now that the prime ministers on both sides have an inborn trading instinct. But Pakistan has used trade as a weapon in the past and will continue to do so even if it hurts their interests.

The compulsions of economic benefits have never been a factor in the India-Pakistan narrative. It can become a factor only if powerful vested interests get into the act. To expect trade to flourish in anticipation of a political dialogue is to allow hope to triumph over experience.

The second announcement of the prime minister's participation at the SAARC meeting in Islamabad is also fraught with danger, as I pointed out when the first announcement was made.

The future of SAARC is under a cloud, with the deterioration of our relations with Nepal. If the problems with Nepal are not resolved by the time of the SAARC summit, they will dominate the summit to the prime minister's embarrassment.

Moreover, Pakistan will push for China's admission to SAARC as the host. This was a difficult issue during the Kathmandu summit as all members, except India, were in favour of China's admission.

The prime minister will face a Hobson's Choice of either acquiescing in China's admission or facing the opprobrium of blocking it.

Pakistan must guarantee the avoidance of such a situation before the prime minister boards the plane for the Islamabad SAARC summit.

The headline that the ice has been broken between India and Pakistan is a joke like the claim by a smoker that he has stopped smoking several times. Why do we need to break the ice again and again?

If history is any guide, time will not be far before we would need to break the ice again.

The resumption of the dialogue will only lead to further recriminations and another freeze, followed by another melting of the ice. A senior Indian negotiator told me in all seriousness once that the good thing about resumption of the dialogue is that we can suspend them when Pakistan launches another terrorist attack!

T P Sreenivasan is a former Ambassador of India and Governor for India at the IAEA; Executive Vice-Chairman, Kerala State Higher Education Council and Director General, Kerala International Centre.

T P Sreenivasan