A wish-list of topics for India-Pakistan talks
During the much awaited talks later this week, India should discreetly flag its concerns so that a greater political maturity on both sides facilitates a discussion on sensitive issues, says B Raman
Foreign Secretary Nirupama Rao and her Pakistani counterpart Salman Bashir are scheduled to meet at Islamabad on June 23-24. The meeting is expected to review the results of the meetings between the home/interior, commerce and defence secretaries of the two countries held since the two foreign secretaries met at Thimphu on the margins of a SAARC meeting in February last year.
It would also discuss issues that are generally dealt with at the FS level such as matters related to Jammu & Kashmir, peace and security, confidence-building measures and terrorism.
The two foreign secretaries will be meeting three months after Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Pakistani Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani met at Mohali in Punjab on March 30, during the India-Pakistan cricket semi-final in the World Cup tournament.
Image: Pakistan's Foreign Secretary Salman Bashir with his Indian counterpart Nirupama Rao
Photographs: Mian Khursheed/Reuters
Time for the next step of Mohali process
After the Mohali meeting, there was speculation that one or more friendly cricket matches between the teams of the two countries could be played in Pakistan and Dr Singh could avail of this opportunity to visit Pakistan to witness one of the matches and hold talks with Gilani and President Asif Ali Zardari.
There has been no further development on this front, but there are indications that the PM would not like the Mohali meeting to remain a one-shot affair without any follow-up. It is likely that the next step in the Mohali process would come up for discussion at the meeting of the two foreign secretaries.
India's expectations regarding time-bound action by Pakistan to have the Pakistan-based co-conspirators of the 26/11 terrorist strikes in Mumbai tried and sentenced have been belied so far. The trial of those arrested is being adjourned repeatedly indicating a continuing lack of sincerity on Pakistan's part in acting against them.
Moreover, the recent trial in Chicago of Lashkar-e-Tayiba operative Tahawwur Hussain Rana has brought out a wealth of additional evidence that the real masterminds of the 26/11 terrorist strikes have not yet been arrested by Pakistani authorities.
Image: Pakistan's Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani with his Indian counterpart Manmohan Singh at Mohali
Pak has shown no willingness to arrest LeT leaders
Though the United States Justice Department failed to have Rana convicted by the jury on a charge of involvement in the 26/11 strikes, his admission and the evidence given by David Coleman Headley, who helped the LeT by collecting operational information from Mumbai to facilitate the terrorist strikes, have clearly assisted in the reconstruction of the 26/11 strikes and the role of Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence and the LeT in them.
Till now, the Pakistani authorities have questioned the veracity of the evidence of Rana and Headley and have shown no inclination to arrest and prosecute LeT leader Sajjid Mir and others who had masterminded the terrorist strikes.
The Pakistani authorities have also shown no willingness to arrest LeT leader Hafiz Mohammad Sayeed who continues to indulge in high profile anti-Indian rhetoric without being checked by the Pakistani authorities. Nor have they acted against his terrorist infrastructure based in Pakistan.
Image: The Correctional Centre in Chicago where David Headley and Tahawwur Hussain Rana are being held
Photographs: John Gress/Reuters
No major terror strikes since Pune blast
However, while the anti-India rhetoric by the LeT from its safe haven in Pakistan continues, one notices a decline in its actions in Indian territory outside Kashmir.
There has been no major terror strike in Indian territory outside J&K after the German Bakery blasts in Pune in February last year. There have been no reports of the detection of any new sleeper cells of the LeT of a worrisome nature.
The reported death (if true) of Ilyas Kashmiri, the head of the so-called 313 Brigade of the Harkat-ul-Jihad-al-Islami in a drone strike by the Central Intelligence Agency in South Waziristan has brought an end to the career of a dreaded terrorist who had acted as a mentor to the LeT and the HUJI.
He had closely interacted with Headley in an attempt to use him for a terror strike in Copenhagen which did not materialise. He had also threatened to organise further terror strikes in India and had developed a close association with the Al Qaeda.
Image: The site of the German Bakery blast in Pune
Threat of fresh terror strikes remain
The absence of any major terror strike in Indian territory outside J&K since February 2010, the non-discovery of any worrisome ISI-trained sleeper cells infiltrated into India and the reported death of Ilyas indicate a qualitative change in the terrorist situation on the ground.
The threat of fresh 26/11 style terror strikes remain, but there has been a non-materialisation of the threat. This could be attributed to the ISI and the terror organisations sponsored by it choosing to lie low till the memories of the 26/11 strikes and the ISI's role in it fade before attempting any major new terrorist strike in Indian territory.
The pressure exercised by the US on Pakistan to keep the anti-India jihadi elements under control, even if they are not eliminated, has worked so far.
Under these circumstances, the Indian strategy at the FS-level talks should be aimed at keeping up the pressure on Pakistan to act against the conspirators of the 26/11 strikes and to let the US and other members of the international community remain aware of the continuing threats faced by India from Pakistan without relaxing whatever little pressure they have been exercising on the latter.
Image: Jamaat-e-Islami supporters protest against US drone strikes
Photographs: Akhtar Soomro/Reuters
A greater engagement with Pakistani Army, ISI
A heightened focus on Pakistan's foot-dragging in relation to terrorism would be necessary without over-doing it in a manner that might come in the way of the continuation of the Mohali process.
The tentative engagement at the political level, the beginning of which was seen at Mohali, has to be made more substantive without letting Pakistan form the wrong impression that the pressure on with respect to ISI's continued sponsorship of terrorism is now a matter of the past. Achieving this nuanced objective will be one of the tasks of the Indian FS.
There has been talk for some time of encouraging an interface with the Pakistani Army and the ISI at the professional level in the hope of diluting their anti-India mindset, making them more amenable to ideas of co-operation and wean them away from their compulsive itch towards confrontation.
Ideas as to whether it would be worthwhile attempting this and, if so, how to go about it have been under discussion for over a year without any forward movement. Hopes of a forward movement during the FS-level talks on peace and security are slim as at present, but one should note that such ideas are still under in-house discussion in New Delhi. They have not yet come out of the in-house stage despite discreet nudgings by the US from time to time.
Image: A Pakistani Ranger and an Indian Border Security Force officer shake hands at the Wagah border post
Photographs: Mohsin Raza/Reuters
We need stronger naval confidence-building measures
The avoidable tension and war of words between the naval authorities of the two countries in recent days in connection with action against Somali pirates who had captured an Egyptian vessel commanded by a Pakistani mercantile marine officer and having among its crew six Indian seamen has drawn attention to the lack of confidence-building measures between the two navies and a mechanism for co-operation against the Somali pirates who are becoming more active and daring.
A basket of naval confidence-building measures was under discussion between the authorities of the two countries before the 26/11 terror strike, but these discussions came to a screeching halt after that. There has been no attempt to re-start the engine of naval confidence-building.
The pre-26/11 discussions mainly relate to conventional confidence-building to prevent or avert possible misunderstandings or mishaps during naval exercises by the navies of the two countries. An exercise to revive these discussions and to expand their scope to co-ordinated action against the Somali pirates is likely to be among the new subjects to be broached by the two foreign secretaries. This would be in addition to a review of the existing nuclear confidence-building measures.
Image: Sailors of Pakistan's Navy play bugles
Photographs: Athar Hussain/Reuters
Discussion on Chinese military presence in Gilgit-Baltistan
The need to strengthen nuclear confidence-building has assumed additional importance after the commando-style raid by a group of terrorists into PNS Mehran at Karachi, during which they destroyed two Orion maritime surveillance aircraft given by the US to Pakistan.
The ease with which the terrorists penetrated a supposedly heavily-guarded set-up of the Pakistan Navy has added to fears in the international community, including India, about the dangers of a similar penetration in a Pakistani nuclear set-up. It is doubtful whether the Pakistanis would be inclined to discuss this sensitive topic with their Indian counterparts. Despite this, India should discreetly flag its concerns in the matter so that, if not now maybe later, a greater political maturity on both sides would facilitate a discussion on such sensitive issues.
The Pakistani authorities would want a more than marginal discussion on matters related to J&K to convince their public and military opinion that this continues to be an important issue in the basket handled by the two foreign secretaries.
In this context, a review of the confidence-building measures agreed to in the past in order to strengthen and expand them is likely. India would be interested in a discussion on reports of large-scale presence of Chinese military and non-military engineers in the Gilgit-Baltistan area of Kashmir presently under Pakistani occupation but it is doubtful whether this would figure in any meaningful way.
Image: A rescue worker stands between ambulances lined outside the Mehran naval aviation base
Photographs: Athar Hussain/Reuters