India can help Pakistan get rid of its fears
Mohali marked a refreshingly different approach to the exercise to impart a strategic new dimension to bilateral relations, believes B Raman
"Any exercise to demotivate the Pakistani state and help it to rid itself of its fears -- which are seen by its army as real and by India as imaginary -- has to start with frequent and sustained interactions between the institutions of the two countries -- political parties to political parties, parliament to parliament, army to army, intelligence to intelligence, foreign office to foreign office and home ministry to home ministry.
Increasing institutional contacts is as important as increasing people to people contacts to remove imaginary fears of each other.
How do we achieve this increase in institutional interactions between India and Pakistan? That should be the basic question to be addressed. It should be addressed in the context of an over-all vision statement between the two countries. The imaginary fears are more in Pakistan's mind than in our mind. The Indian prime minister should take the initiative by visiting Pakistan to set the ball rolling towards an agreed common vision."
Image: Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and his Pakistani counterpart Yusuf Raza Gilani greet players of the Indian and Pakistani cricket teams at Mohali on Wednesday
Photographs: Vivek Prakash/Reuters
How do we give a forward push to Indo-Pak ties?
In the background of these suggestions, it is gratifying to note that the two concrete outcomes of the wide-ranging conversations between visiting Pakistan Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh at Mohali on March 30 have been exchanges of visits by parliamentary delegations of the two countries and an invitation from Gilani to our prime minister to visit Pakistan.
The invitation has not yet been formally accepted by Dr Singh, but during her media briefing at Mohali on March 30, Foreign Secretary Nirupama Rao gave an indication that we have an open mind on this issue.
How do we give a forward push to the relations between the two countries without creating an euphoria which may prove to be unwarranted and may come back to haunt us should there be a fresh terror strike originating from Pakistan organised by elements determined to derail the 're-engagement' and 're-connecting' process at the top political level set in motion by the two prime ministers?
Image: Pakistan PM Gilani and Dr Singh wave to spectators
Photographs: Getty Images
PMs held 'wide-ranging conversations'
That is the question that has been sought to be addressed by the two prime ministers during their 'conversations'. The foreign secretary underlined that what the two prime ministers had during their interactions at Mohali were 'wide-ranging conversations' and not 'talks'.
The apparently deliberate attempt to avoid a joint statement or a joint media briefing at the end of Gilani's visit was to create and maintain an air of relaxed informality about the process of 're-engagement' started by the two prime ministers without giving it an over-projected formal cloak that could have proved counter-productive.
What one saw at Mohali was a refreshingly different approach to the exercise to impart a strategic new dimension to the bilateral relations.
Image: Dr Singh and Gilani watch the match
Photographs: PIB Photo
The 're-engagement' process has begun
There are two defining characteristics of this new approach -- a carefully calibrated 're-engagement' process begun and taken charge of by the two prime ministers themselves and the continuation of the resumed dialogue process agreed upon by the two PMs when they met in Thimpu last year under the watch of concerned ministers and senior bureaucrats.
The first stage of the resumed dialogue process was completed just before the two prime ministers met at Mohali when the home secretaries of India and Pakistan met at New Delhi and reached some positive agreements on issues arising from the 26/11 terrorist strikes in Mumbai.
They also decided to set up a hotline between the two of them to enable faster and direct communications as part of a joint approach to internal security.
Image: Cricket fever has helped bring the two nations together
Chidambaram to meet Rehman soon
The home secretaries' meeting is expected to be followed by a meeting -- possibly in July -- between Home Minister P Chidambaram and Pakistan Interior Minister Rehman Malik.
Thus, the two prime ministers have left it to their ministers responsible for internal security the onus of finding mutually acceptable solutions to the issues related to terrorism that could come in the way of the 're-engagement' process.
The resumed dialogue process set in motion at Thimphu would continue with forthcoming meetings between the commerce and foreign secretaries of the two countries followed by meetings at ministerial level.
Image: Gilani with Congress president Sonia Gandhi
Photographs: PIB Photos
The PMs should keep the 're-engagement' process moving forward
The strategic 're-engagement' process and the tactical 'dialogue process' will move side by side with the two prime ministers focussing on the 're-engagement' process and concerned ministers and officials focussing on continuing the dialogue process.
To prevent an attempt to derail the 're-engagement' process by elements which are against it, it is important that the 'wide-ranging conversations' initiated at Mohali are kept moving forward by the two prime ministers.
Image: Dr Singh hosted an official dinner for Gilani in Mohali
Photographs: PIB Photo
Dr Singh should visit Pakistan
We need an early decision by our prime minister on his acceptance of the invitation from Gilani and quick follow-up on the visits of parliamentary delegations.
The goodwill and the benign interest in each other generated by the World Cup cricket semi-final match was taken advantage of by our prime minister to make the 're-engagement' and 're-connecting' process possible.
He should readily accept the reported suggestion of Gilani for a friendly cricket match between the two teams in Pakistan in the near future and visit that country to keep this process of strategic discovery of each other going forward.
Image: PM interacts with Rehman Malik while Gilani is seen talking to Shivraj Patil
Photographs: PIB Photos