India-Pakistan Peace: Moving towards a dream... slowly

Moving towards a dream... slowly
Basharat Peer, The News, June 22, 2011
On May 12, Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh travelled to Kabul for the first time since 2005. There, he announced $500 million in Indian aid, raising India’s total contribution to $2 billion for developmental projects for Afghanistan and increasing cooperation on security issues between the two governments. Singh’s pronouncements in Kabul were followed with great attention in Pakistan.

Asked whether India would mount a covert action similar to the United States operation to kill Osama bin Laden if it had credible evidence of fugitives wanted by India in Pakistan, Singh downplayed such a possibility: “Experience in the past has been rather frustrating and disappointing. One cannot lose hope. Let me say one thing: ...India is not like the United States.”

Days earlier, shortly after bin Laden’s killing in Pakistan, reporters had asked Indian Army chief Gen V K Singh and Indian Air Force chief P V Naik the same question: Could India go after Pakistan-based terrorists? The answer in both cases: Yes, we can.

Pakistan had retaliated with counterwarnings. Pakistani Foreign Secretary Salman Bashir remarked that such “misadventure” could lead to a “terrible catastrophe” — a quick reminder of his country’s nuclear capabilities.

Some Indian television anchors and strategic-affairs hawks had continued egging on the Indian government to raid Pakistan and assassinate men like Hafiz Saeed, the chief of Jamaat-ud-Dawa, whom India holds responsible for the 2008 Mumbai terrorist attacks. The main opposition, Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party called on Singh to rethink his Pakistan policy and demand Ibrahim’s extradition, saying “talks and terror cannot coexist.” Even within Singh’s Congress Party, several leaders clamoured to end talks with Pakistan. “Singh is in a minority even in his party, but he resisted all the pressure to end talks with Pakistan,” says an analyst.

Singh advocates Indian engagement with Pakistan aimed at resolving all disputes, including the future of Kashmir. A slow process of meetings between Indian and Pakistani officials has lumbered on since late 2003, reaching its most fruitful moment in April 2005, when the two countries agreed to allow a bus service for divided families across the Line of Control (LOC), the de facto border between Indian-controlled and Pakistan-controlled parts of Kashmir.

Some hopeful moments followed, as back-channel talks between India and Pakistan in 2006 and 2007 backed by Singh and then-President Pervez Musharraf came close to an informal agreement about the way out of the Kashmir dispute. Indian and Pakistani diplomats had come to agree on a largely autonomous Kashmir with soft borders between the Indian-controlled and Pakistani-controlled regions, followed by a gradual demilitarisation of the area. But the idea did not go further, due to subsequent political turmoil in Pakistan, followed by Musharraf stepping down in August 2008. India formally ended talks with Pakistan after terrorists based in Pakistan attacked Mumbai in November 2008.
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