External Affairs Minister S M Krishna’s overture to Pakistan on Monday is both timely and necessary. A speck of what could turn out to be the proverbial dark cloud needlessly appeared on the horizon following the Home Secretary level talks in Islamabad on May 24-25. The talks themselves seemed to have been substantive but at the end of it all, what stood out was the postponement of the signing of the new Visa Agreement that has been finalized.
The postponement is attributed to “some pending approvals” by the Pakistani government agencies and departments. But it doesn’t need much ingenuity to fathom that there has been a retraction by Pakistan and the real reason could be that Islamabad has taken a “time out” to ponder where the dialogue is leading.
Of course, Indian detractors pounced on the development to spin fairy tales about the dialectics between civilian and military leaderships in Pakistan and reiterate that dialogue with Pakistan has been, is and for ever will be a chimera — something we’ve heard ad nauseam ever since Prime Minister Manmohan Singh embarked on the dialogue.
But, ignoring rabble rousers, Indian establishment seems to have done some hard thinking as to what prompted the latest Pakistani reserve on formalizing the Visa Agreement. EAM’s statement can be seen in that light. Significantly, EAM spoke on behalf of the PM.
The heart of the matter is that to a discernible observer, some trace of disillusionment has been apparent on the Pakistani side as regards India’s willingness to move forward in the normalization process. There is virtually no rhetoric about India by the Pakistani side and, therefore, it is all the more important to read correctly the Pakistani thought processes.
Clearly, there is a change in the Pakistani attitudes toward India. Pakistan has made some important decisions regarding “normalizing” the ties with India. While the “MFN” decision is the most visible part, there are unspoken things lurking below — such as, for instance, the drop in cross-border infiltration and terrorism or the overall disinterest in queering the pitch of contradictions that prevail in J&K despite the semblance of “normalcy”.
While India quietly appreciates this trend and, certainly, much as India stands to gain from the improvement of the overall climate of relations, the political reality is that there has been no tangible movement on the hard issues, especially the so-called “doable” issues. The hopes raised about a visit by PM to Pakistan are beginning to meander.
The Pakistani commentators are not way off the mark in flagging the creeping “militarization” of India’s foreign policy, which complicates the resolution of disputes like Siachen. Why Siachen? Because, India’s military operation in 1984 was the first major violation of the Simla Agreement and it provoked in the downstream a long bloody chain of action-reaction all the way up to 26/11. Rivers of blood flowed as a result.
The deliberate decision taken by Islamabad to defer the signing of the Visa Agreement is not difficult to comprehend. The regional backdrop is highly complicated — especially with the prospect of the long-term US and NATO military presence in the region — and Pakistan has genuine misgivings about India’s capacity to maintain an independent foreign policy, delinking it from the US strategies toward Pakistan, while the endgame in Afghanistan progresses. The freedom with which the US secretary of state Hillary Clinton lambasted Pakistan from the Indian soil, violating all diplomatic propriety, would only have reinforced the Pakistani misgivings. (Why couldn’t she have visited Pakistan and said what she wanted?)
Simply put, islamabad put the ball in the Indian court and left it to us to decide what sort of relationship we are seeking with them. Indeed, a genuine process of normalization needs to be built on reciprocity, give-and-take, and it demands flexibility in negotiation.
Essentially, it is a political call. Which makes it very pertinent that EAM chose to underscore on PM’s behalf India’s commitment to the dialogue and the leadership’s resoluteness to “make every effort” and “explore all options” to see that the dynamics and verve of the normalization process are sustained. The political challenge will be to translate this warm sentiment into action.