India-Pakistan talks back on track?


November 25, 2013

NEW DELHI: The violence on the line of control (LoC) has perceptibly come down. And almost unnoticed, the conversations between India and Pakistan have increased.

November 25, 2013

NEW DELHI: The violence on the line of control (LoC) has perceptibly come down. And almost unnoticed, the conversations between India and Pakistan have increased.

Despite elections being round the corner, the buzz has returned to the government that the prime minister might take a final stab at visiting the only neighbouring country he has ever wanted to go to. What would it take for Manmohan Singh to be able to go to Pakistan?

High-level sources said the laundry list of actions included significant reduction of violence on the LoC, determined forward movement on the 26/11 case and a decision on most favoured nation (MFN) status by Pakistan.

Although DGMOs have not met, as the two prime ministers intended, since the decision in late September, the violence on the LoC has reduced somewhat. Some of it is explained by the coming of winter, which makes the passes difficult to negotiate. But sources said the violence was deliberate, and its absence is equally deliberate.

In the past, India has flirted with the talks-inspite-of-terrorism option. But this year, India linked normalization of ties with Pakistan to peace and tranquility on the LoC. Its too soon to ascribe the reduction to diplomatic pressure, but something is clearly working. An official said, "We don't want to jump the gun, because there could be violence tomorrow."

Foreign minister Salman Khurshid, who has evolved into becoming a proactive diplomat, has quietly pushed the envelope with Pakistan. In Colombo, Khurshid apparently met Pakistani PM Nawaz Sharif on the sidelines of CHOGM, a meeting that was not flagged by the Indian government.

The Pakistani media, which was briefed, described it as "positive". On November 12, Khurshid held a meeting with Sartaj Aziz on the sidelines of ASEM, where he emphasized the importance of respecting Indian sensitivities and keeping the border quiet. Khurshid also said India has done everything possible to move the 26/11 case forward. Pakistan would now have to prosecute top LeT leaders like Zaki-ur-Rehman Lakhvi and bring closure.

On Saturday, the PM met Salman Bashir, the departing Pakistani envoy, in a farewell meeting. "It is unusual for the PM to meet departing envoys," said G Parthasarathy, former high commissioner to Pakistan.

For a struggling Sharif government in Islamabad, a visit by the Indian PM would be an unexpected bonus in an otherwise disastrous year. But it's not yet clear whether he can either push the terror prosecution or keep Pakistan's notorious jihadi factory in check. On the other hand, Pakistani leaders have been quoted as saying they would rather decide on things like MFN when the next government in India takes office.

In India, the Congress party, heading into elections, has dished out tougher rhetoric on Pakistan than ever before. Its unclear it would be comfortable with a PM visit to Pakistan, particularly if there is a risk of a terror attack.

On Friday, the PM told the nation's DGPs, "Resurgence of terrorist groups, particularly Lashkar-e-Taiba and increased infiltration attempts call for heightened vigil and coordination by our security forces. There is also a likelihood of attempts to disrupt the forthcoming Lok Sabha and assembly elections."

The risks are offset by the PM's own interest in normalizing relations with Pakistan, quite apart from a personal interest in seeing the village where he was born.

The government has dangled a further carrot on trade to Pakistan. Last week, Arvind Mehta, senior official in the commerce ministry, said, "If Pakistan grants non-discriminatory access to India, we will provide a reciprocal market access to Pakistan at a 0-5% duty rate, similar to what is being given to Bangladesh."

Courtesy: TNN