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