While the two squab­bling neigh­bors re­main skep­ti­cal about each other’s se­cu­rity is­sues, bi­lat­eral talks be­tween In­dia and Pak­istan is a wel­come sign.

Southasia - - Cover story - By Anees Jil­lani

Will bi­lat­eral talks be­tween In­dia and Pak­istan ever bear fruit?

On April 11, In­dia re­leased 39 Pak­istani prisoners, in­clud­ing two women. A week ear­lier, Pak­istan had freed an In­dian who had been held for over 23 years on spy­ing charges. These are wel­com­ing de­vel­op­ments and must be ap­pre­ci­ated.

Most of the re­leased prisoners were fish­er­men, de­tained by In­dia for in­ad­ver­tently and il­le­gally cross­ing into its ter­ri­to­rial waters; or oth­ers who sim­ply over­stayed their stip­u­lated pe­riod of stay in In­dia.

There are re­ports that Pak­istan may re­cip­ro­cate this In­dian ges­ture by re­leas­ing about 100 In­dian prison- ers in the com­ing days who again are likely to be fish­er­men.

The In­dian prime min­is­ter is cur­rently fac­ing one of the worst po­lit­i­cal crises of his gov­ern­ment which has ex­ac­er­bated af­ter the re­cent Wik­iLeaks pub­li­ca­tions. His gov­ern­ment is be­ing ac­cused of sell­ing 2G li­censes that has re­sulted in loss of sup­pos­edly 40 bil­lion dol­lars. Ad­di­tion­ally, Wik­iLeaks shows that the Amer­i­can diplo­mats were shown suit­cases full of money that was used to buy the op­po­si­tion mem­bers of the Lok Sabha to get the Indo-U.S. deal ap­proved by the par­lia­ment.

The March 30 In­dia Pak­istan semi fi­nal match thus came out of the blue and the Man­mo­han gov­ern­ment like a nor­mal po­lit­i­cal gov­ern­ment grabbed the op­por­tu­nity and in­vited his Pak­istani coun­ter­part Prime Min­is­ter Gi­lani to visit Mo­hali to watch the match with him. The Gi­lani gov­ern­ment faced a tough sit­u­a­tion as it would have been crit­i­cized, par­tic­u­larly by the west­ern pow­ers if it had turned down the in­vi­ta­tion while the meet­ing was un­likely to yield any pos­i­tive re­sults. In any event, gov­ern­ment in Pak­istan is not far­ing any bet­ter when it comes to po­lit­i­cal im­broglios and Prime Min­is­ter Gi­lani, ac­com­pa­nied

by a large del­e­ga­tion vis­ited Mo­hali.

In­dia won the semi fi­nals and peace is said to have won with it. Any meet­ings be­tween In­dian and Pak­istani lead­ers are a wel­com­ing de­vel­op­ment but we all should not read too much into them. We have a del­i­cate re­la­tion­ship which gets af­fected by a sin­gle ter­ror­ist in­ci­dent; the driver of Pak­istan High Com­mis­sion was ar­rested in Chandi­garh while Prime Min­is­ter Gi­lani was there. He was re­leased; other­wise, this in­ci­dent alone would have been suf­fi­cient to spoil the bon­homie.

The meet­ing took place with­out any prior prepa­ra­tion and thus noth­ing should and could have been ex­pected; and noth­ing hap­pened. More im­por­tant was the In­te­rior sec­re­tary level two-day talks in New Delhi that ended a day ear­lier than the semi fi­nals.

The meet­ing was held in pur­suance of the de­ci­sion taken in Thim­phu in Fe­bru­ary 2011 to re­sume the di­a­logue process and in con­tin­u­a­tion of the In­te­rior min­is­ters meet­ing held in Islamabad on June 25-26, 2010; and took up from where the last talks had ended on the eve of the Mum­bai at­tacks.

The two sides agreed to set up a Hot­line be­tween In­te­rior sec­re­taries and to meet an­nu­ally.

In­dia re­mains bit­ter about the in­volve­ment of Pak­ista­nis in the Mum­bai at­tack and keeps crit­i­ciz­ing the slow pace of the on-go­ing trial of the ring lead­ers of the ter­ror­ists in­volved in the at­tack. Pak­istan is of the opin­ion that it would be dif­fi­cult to pros­e­cute and con­vict the ac­cused with­out get­ting Aj­mal Kasab’s tes­ti­mony ad­mit­ted in the lo­cal courts and with­out giv­ing the ac­cused’s lawyers a chance to cross ex­am­ine Kasab. It con­veyed this predica­ment some­what late to the In­di­ans but it ap­pears from these talks that the In­di­ans fi­nally have been con­vinced of this legal predica­ment and have agreed in prin­ci­ple to al­low a com­mis­sion from Pak­istan to visit In- dia to re­view the ev­i­dence within the next four weeks.

In­dia is con­vinced of ISI’s in­volve­ment in the Mum­bai at­tacks and thus de­sires to ex­am­ine the ac­cused ar­rested and lodged in Pak­istani jails to find more de­tails. Any de­nial on the part of Pak­istan with re­gard to the In­dian re­quest in this re­spect is thus seen sus­pi­ciously by In­dia as an im­plicit ac­cep­tance of ISI’s in­volve­ment. Pak­istan has now fi­nally agreed to per­mit a com­mis­sion from In­dia to ex­am­ine these ac­cused with re­spect to Mum­bai ter­ror at­tack in­ves­ti­ga­tions. Modal­i­ties and com­po­si­tion in this con­nec­tion will be worked out through diplo­matic chan­nels.

In re­turn for this ma­jor con­ces­sion on the part of Pak­istan, In­dia pro­vided in­for­ma­tion on the on-go­ing Samjhau­tha Ex­press blast case in­ves­ti­ga­tion in the talks and promised to keep shar­ing up­dated in­for­ma­tion with the con­cerned Pak­istani authorities.

The two sides also agreed to re­lease by April 15, 2011 all those civil­ian prisoners and fish­er­men who have com­pleted their sen­tence, and whose na­tion­al­ity sta­tus has been con­firmed by the re­spec­tive gov­ern­ments and whose travel doc­u­ments have been re­ceived; the April re­leases were a con­se­quence of this de­ci­sion. It was also agreed that com­plete list of prisoners in each oth­ers cus­tody will be ex­changed by July 1, 2011. One can only wish that the two sides had agreed to re­lease all the fish­er­men and prisoners ex­cept those who are in­volved in se­ri­ous of­fenses but some­thing is al­ways bet­ter than noth­ing, par­tic­u­larly when one re­al­izes that many of these prisoners have been un­der­go­ing im­pris­on­ment for decades.

Most of these prisoners are in­volved in petty of­fenses, like over­stay­ing their visas or vis­it­ing a town not stamped on the visa or sim­ply over­stay­ing. Some per­sons in­ad­ver­tently cross the bor­der as the fence be­tween the two coun­tries is not lo­cated ex­actly on the bor­der and is a lit­tle be­hind the In­dian side; many thus en­ter the In­dian ter­ri­tory think­ing that it is Pak­istani area up to the fence. The In­te­rior sec­re­taries agreed to view such cases sym­pa­thet­i­cally in the fu­ture, and in a fo­cused and sen­si­tive man­ner.

Both the sec­re­taries also agreed to task the Coast Guard of the two coun­tries to work on set­ting up a mech­a­nism for re­lease of in­ad­ver­tent crossers (fish­er­men) and their boats on the same lines as the in­ad­ver­tent crossers on land.

A MoU on Drug De­mand Re­duc­tion and Preven­tion of Il­licit Traf­fick­ing in Nar­cotics Drugs/Psy­chotropic Sub­stances and Pre­cur­sor Chem­i­cals and re­lated mat­ters in the com­ing NCB-ANF in May 2011 and a Joint Work­ing Group was de­cided to be es­tab­lished to ex­am­ine the modal­i­ties for stream­lin­ing the visa pro­ce­dure and for giv­ing a fi­nal shape to re­vi­sion of the Bi­lat­eral Visa Agree­ment.

All the afore-stated mea­sures may be mi­nor but are a step in the right direc­tion and thus are wel­com­ing. The proof of the pud­ding, how­ever, is in the eat­ing and let us now all pray that the two gov­ern­ments will be able to de­liver on all these covenants. The writer is an ad­vo­cate of the Supreme Court and a mem­ber of the Wash­ing­ton, DC Bar. He has been writ­ing reg­u­larly for var­i­ous pub­li­ca­tions for more than 20 years and has authored sev­eral books.

Liv­ing up to the Mo­hali spirit.

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