WEB DESK: Eyeball-to-eyeball confrontation that had defined Pakistan-India relationship for the last few years should give way to the kind of bonhomie which tends to obtain following just one meeting of their national security advisors last week; it looks so much surreal.
The question whether or not all of is it home-grown or outsourced, we will certainly seek its answer but in due course. For now, we would like to look forward and try finding out why this bonhomie and how it is expected to play out. India has taken a stunning turnaround and is willing to discuss with Pakistan everything under the sun, including the future of Kashmir, an issue that India considered non-kosher for the negotiating table.
Or, is it that we in Pakistan are carried away by rich optics of special welcome to India’s External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj, and the joint statement issued after her meeting with host counterpart, Sartaj Aziz – without sensing that we have been here many a time before. The text of the Composite Dialogue is not very different from the ‘Comprehensive Bilateral Dialogue’ now agreed upon.
But it happened to be stillborn. That the foreign secretaries of the two countries will now meet and work out ‘modalities and schedule’ of meetings under the new dialogue is no addition to what the Composite Dialogue contained. In Pakistan, the minimum people had expected coming of her to give a go-ahead to the proposed cricket series, but she preferred to keep mum. What she took home from here is assurance by her counterpart of the “steps to expedite the early conclusion of the Mumbai trial”.
Was the Samjhota Express incident not an act of terrorism that it is missing from the joint statement? It was the Heart of Asia Ministerial on Afghanistan that she had come to attend and in her address she called for India’s inclusion in the Afghanistan-Pakistan Transit Trade Agreement. Not that we would like to belittle the significance of all that has materialised in the wake of Sushma Swaraj’s visit and her visibly positive posturing.
But the question whether it is really an ‘ice-breaker’ will remain unanswered until guns on the Line of Control fall silent, Kashmiris don’t get killed and the Shiv Sena thugs allow Ghulam Ali to sing in India.
Even when we are a bit sceptic about the outcome of Sushma Swaraj’s visit, we are quite positive on the outcome of the fifth Heart of Asia-Istanbul Process conference. The Islamabad Declaration issued by the conference brings the international community back to Afghanistan – not to fight the insurgents but to involve them in restoring peace and normalcy in their country.
“We urge that all Afghan Taliban groups and all other armed opposition groups enter into peace talks with the Afghan government,” says the Declaration. More specifically, however, the invitation to Taliban to resume the peace process came from Afghan Foreign Minister Salahuddin Rabbani, who after his interlocutions in “bilateral and trilateral meetings” on the margins of the conference, said “our allies agreed with us … to bring the reconcilable elements to the table”. Earlier too, the Afghan Taliban were with Afghan officials at Murree and they would like to be there on the table again.
But one must not lose sight of the fact that the parties to a peace process would like coming to the table from a position of strength. That, perhaps, explains why just a few hours before the Heart of Asia-Istanbul Process got under way the Taliban seized the Kandahar airport. Of course, they were beaten back by a joint Afghan-Nato force, but they did register their indispensability to any process/dialogue for peace in Afghanistan. No doubt the possibility of resumption of Afghan peace process is the major upshot from the conference.
But the participants who included ministers and high-level representatives of all regional countries and international stakeholders, including the United States and European Union, also shared quite a few other concerns in the context of ‘Heart of Asia’ region like terrorism and extremism, terror-financing, drug trafficking and plight of Afghan refugees. They also stressed the need to improve regional connectivity which in turn should help easy flow of energy and trade between the regional countries. All of what the conference indicated as its programme is feasible over some time, but for that to happen there got to be in place confidence-building measures.
And there is no reason why this should not happen, especially now that Kabul government is prepared to meet its adversary Taliban and India has offered to discuss Jammu and Kashmir.