Be­yond the Bit­ter­ness

Are In­dia and Pak­istan ready to en­ter into a new era of en­gage­ment?

Southasia - - Contents - By S.G. Ji­la­nee

Pak­istan’s pres­i­dents have hith­erto been prac­tic­ing cricket diplo­macy. Aware of Pak­istani weak­ness for cricket, In­dia’s prime min­is­ters would rou­tinely in­vite Pak­istan’s pres­i­dents and prime min­is­ters to at­tend cricket matches, even though their re­la­tions were tense.

The vis­its are largely pri­vate but of­ten serve as in­for­mal sum­mits, where the two sides talk frankly with­out be­ing en­cum­bered by a clutch of aides whis­per­ing in their ears. And these oc­ca­sions have of­ten helped re­pair bro­ken ties.

In 1987, In­dia’s Prime Min­is­ter, Ra­jiv Gandhi in­vited Pres­i­dent Zi­aul-Haq to watch the cricket match at Jaipur de­spite the fact that he had re­cently ac­cused Pak­istan of aid­ing in­sur­gents in In­dian Pun­jab. Zia-ulHaq’s visit was rounded off with a meet­ing with Gandhi which re­sulted in wa­ter­ing down mu­tual mis­trust.

In 2005, In­dia’s Prime Min­is­ter, Man­mo­han Singh, in­vited Pak­istani Pres­i­dent Pervez Mushar­raf to a one­day cricket match in New Delhi. Re­fer­ring to the meet­ing in his book, In the Line of Fire, Mushar­raf said that the visit that be­gan as an in­for­mal one, ended in a “very pos­i­tive joint dec­la­ra­tion.” In March last year, Man­mo­han Singh in­vited Pak­istani Pres­i­dent Asif Ali Zar­dari and Prime Min­is­ter Yusuf Raza Gi­lani to watch the In­dia-Paki-

stan World Cup semi­fi­nal in Mo­hali.

These ini­tia­tives were ev­i­dence enough of In­dia’s de­sire to re­sus­ci­tate bi­lat­eral re­la­tions that had nose­dived fol­low­ing the Novem­ber 2008 ter­ror­ist at­tack in Mum­bai, al­legedly spon­sored by el­e­ments in Pak­istan.

Mean­while there have been pos­i­tive vibes in­di­cat­ing a change in the air with a marked urge among saner peo­ple on both sides to be re­al­is­tic, put the ugly past be­hind and move on. For Pak­istan it was per­haps the in­sult and hu­mil­i­a­tion by the U.S. that jolted the mil­i­tary lead­er­ship to re­al­ize that its neigh­bors should be cul­ti­vated and not hated.

Such pos­i­tive in­di­ca­tors called for a sum­mit to give the move­ment fur­ther boost but there were no cricket matches within sight. The only other al­ter­na­tive was a pil­grim­age to the shrine of Kh­waja Moin­ud­din Chishti at Ajmer. Pres­i­dent Zar­dari, ac­cord­ingly, opted to go on a “pri­vate” trip to In­dia and set the course for “pil­grim­age diplo­macy.”

The econ­o­mist in Man­mo­han Singh, mean­while, as­sessed the ben­e­fit of ex­ploit­ing the oc­ca­sion for an in­for­mal tete-a-tete over an elab­o­rate for­mal “sum­mit” and in­vited Pres­i­dent Zar­dari to a lun­cheon en route to Ajmer. As ex­pected, the two cov­ered more ground in their 40-minute face to face talk than could have been pos­si­ble in a for­mal sum­mit weighed down by a clutch of ad­vis­ers and aides.

To­gether, they romped about the en­tire stretch of bi­lat­eral is­sues. Amongst other things, Dr. Singh raised the is­sue of Hafiz Saeed, the al­leged mas­ter­mind be­hind the Mum­bai at­tacks. Em­pha­siz­ing the need to prose­cute him, he re­it­er­ated that ac­tion against those in­volved in the ter­ror at­tacks in In­dia would be a ma­jor is­sue by which In­dian peo­ple would judge their ties with Pak­istan. Zar­dari re­ferred to the le­gal is­sues in­volved and both lead­ers agreed that a struc­tured dis­cus­sion on Saeed should be held dur­ing the com­ing Home Sec­re­tarylevel talks in Islamabad.

For his part, Zar­dari raised the is­sue of Pak­istani mi­cro­bi­ol­o­gist, Dr Khalil Chishty, 80, who is serv­ing lifeim­pris­on­ment in an In­dian jail. Chishty came to Ajmer in 1992 to meet his ail­ing mother. Zar­dari also raised is­sues of usual ref­er­ence to Kash­mir, the Si­achen glacier and Sir Creek round­ing it off with an in­vi­ta­tion to Prime Min­is­ter Singh to visit Pak­istan.

The host agreed that con­certed, step by step moves, to find mu­tu­ally ac­cept­able so­lu­tions were nec­es­sary to im­prove bi­lat­eral re­la­tions. “We are will­ing to find prac­ti­cal and prag­matic so­lu­tions to all our is­sues. That is the mes­sage Pres­i­dent Zar­dari and I wish to con­vey,” Dr. Singh told re­porters af­ter their meet­ing.

Zar­dari’s as­sess­ment of the talks as “very fruit­ful,” was un­der­scored by the In­dian Supreme court‘s or­der, im­me­di­ately fol­low­ing the pri­vate sum­mit, of not only al­low­ing bail to Dr Chishty but also agree­ing to hear a sep­a­rate pe­ti­tion that he serve out the rest of his bail in Karachi.

Fol­low­ing Zar­dari-singh par­leys, Pak­istan’s com­merce min­is­ter, Amin Fahim vis­ited his In­dian coun­ter­part, Anand Sharma. Their meet­ing re­sulted in In­dia lit­er­ally open­ing the door for more trade with Pak­istan. Be­sides the de­ci­sion to con­sider eas­ing visa fa­cil­i­ties with the goal of a non-visa regime, In­dia also agreed, ‘in prin­ci­ple,’ to al­low for­eign di­rect in­vest­ment (FDI) from Pak­istan be­sides open­ing a sec­ond in­te­grated check post (ICP) on the border at At­tari. The new post would pave way for the smooth flow of road traf­fic, pro­vide up­graded and modern in­fra­struc­ture for traders from both coun­tries, and fa­cil­i­tate the peo­ple cross­ing the border.

In­dian Home Min­is­ter P Chi­dambaram, In­dian Pun­jab Chief Min­is­ter Parkash Singh Badal and his Pak­istani coun­ter­part Shah­baz Sharif ac­com­pa­nied Sharma and Fahim in un­veil­ing the plaque. Chi­dambaram termed the open­ing, a gate­way of trade and pros­per­ity to Cen­tral Asian coun­tries that is bound to in­crease Indo-pak trade four folds.

Both coun­tries have also agreed in prin­ci­ple to al­low the open­ing of each other’s bank branches in their ter­ri­to­ries to fa­cil­i­tate fi­nan­cial trans­ac­tions and en­sure smooth trade. Both com­merce min­is­ters told re­porters that the Re­serve Bank of In­dia (RBI) and State Bank of Pak­istan (SBP) fa­vored open­ing branches in each other’s coun­try.

While Sharma an­nounced set­ting up of an In­dia-Pak­istan Busi­ness Coun­cil in the near fu­ture, Fahim said that they had also de­cided to open up ne­go­ti­a­tions in the hos­pi­tal­ity, ed­u­ca­tion and tourism sec­tors.

Fur­ther­more, the In­dian School of Busi­ness (ISB) at Hy­der­abad signed a mem­o­ran­dum of un­der­stand­ing (MoU) with the Karachi-based In­sti­tute of Busi­ness Ad­min­is­tra­tion (IBA) to pro­vide ex­ec­u­tive ed­u­ca­tion in Pak­istan. Un­der the MoU, the ISB will of­fer open en­rol­ment and cus­tom-de­signed pro­grams through its Cen­tre for Ex­ec­u­tive Ed­u­ca­tion.

And fi­nally, In­dia has of­fered to sell 500MW of elec­tric­ity to Pak­istan at about Rs15 per unit at the Wa­gahAt­tari border.

Zar­dari’s pri­vate visit seems to have touched off a tsunami of good­will and an urge to im­prove re­la­tions as never be­fore. But the tempo needs to be sus­tained. That would re­quire sin­cer­ity of pur­pose on both sides. In­dia has al­ready taken some pos­i­tive ini­tia­tives. Now it is Pak­istan’s turn. How it re­cip­ro­cates In­dia’s ges­tures will be watched in­ter­na­tion­ally.

But the fore­most pre­con­di­tion for Dr. Man­mo­han Singh’s ac­cep­tance of Pres­i­dent Zar­dari’s in­vi­ta­tion to visit Pak­istan is for the lat­ter to al­lay In­dia’s con­cerns about ter­ror­ism be­ing nur­tured in Pak­istan.

The fol­low­ing weeks and months will il­lus­trate how sin­cere both sides are in im­ple­ment­ing the prom­ises they have made.

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