Does the India-Pakistan peace talks have a future?



Does the India-Pakistan peace talks have a future?
From www.moneycontrol.com; August 24, 2006

Has the Mumbai bomb blasts torn apart whatever progress was made with the peace process with Pakistan? Or has it just been derailed for a bit and will soon be back on track? At the best of times, the relationship India and Pakistan share is patchy and stormy in parts. So, when terrorist attacks start getting exported to far corners of India, and all fingers of suspicion point at Pakistan, it seems like the peace process may have been damaged yet again. But Pakistan keeps claiming that the terrorism is something that India keeps playing up to a resolving the Kashmir issue. Even the US sides with them and says that there is no proof that Pakistan is involved in the blasts.

But India does have a legitimate grievance whether Pakistan or the United States choses to acknowledge that. Predictably, Pakistani MP, Minu Bhandara says that these accusations are unfounded and that Pakistan is always the first to be picked on everytime something like this happens, even if there is no concrete evidence to prove it.

But even Former Indian High Commissioner in Islamabad, G Parthasarthy feels that "we acted prematurely by blaming Pakistan for the Mumbai bomb blasts. We had no evidence at that stage and we have no evidence now. But the earlier bomb blasts - the one in Ayodhya and especially the one in Varanasi - there was clear evidence that the people killed by the security forces were Pakistani nationals."

He adds, "Now if the Pakistan government wants evidence, all that they have to do is read the statements made by Hafeez Sayed and what is published in Jamaat ud Dawah's (this is the new name under which Lashkar-e-Toiba has resurfaced) magazines."

President of the National Conference, Omar Abdullah also agrees that this time, India did jump the gun and blame Pakistan and even the Americans have called our bluff this time. He adds, "The people who have been arrested are Indian Muslims and not even Kashmiri Muslims. They are from states other than Jammu and Kashmir."

Bhandara does have a point to make that by accusing one another, we are just playing into the hands of terrorists, who want this to happen. He also denies that Pakistan does not greenlight terrorists and it annoys Pakistanis, when they keep hearing this. Parthasarthy though, does not agree with Bhandara here and says, "There is a carefully calibrated ruse of (using) terrorism as an instrument of state policy. You read the American state department report on terrorism, which makes it clear that these groups operate not only in J&K but across India and that the Pakistan government is providing assistance to Taliban leaders, who are living in Quetta. So, the complaint is not only from India and what I feel sorry about is that society in Pakistan is going to pay a very heavy price, between what they say and what they do, particularly the military establishment."

Both Abdullah and Parthasarthy believe that the Prime Minister should take the peace talks forward by meeting with President Musharraf in Havana or New York (where both are going to be there for the NAM Conference and the UN General Assembly). Even though, Parthasarthy has been something of a sceptic of the peace talks in earlier times, today, he says, he has seen substantive progress happen in the past two years. He says that, President Musharraf now talks about self governance and about coordinating institutions along the line of control and even Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has said that borders should be made irrelevant. So, huge improvements have been made.

But Musharraf also has the unfortunate task of explaining his moves to some hardline elements in his country, who think he's made too many concessions to India, without getting much in return to show for it. India's constant skepticism of his advances has also not helped his case much. India does this because they are not sure, if Musharraf will be able to deliver all that he promises.

On the other hand, Bhandara states that at this point of time, everything that Musharraf has offered so far, he's certainly able to deliver it, and all that India has to do is, make the most of this window of opportunity and grab it. So, is India prepared to do that - is the next big question.

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