New Delhi | April 30, 2010 1:47:44 am
A bit of give and take and the willingness to save each others face allowed India and Pakistan on Friday to find a way out of the stalemate in their bilateral relations since the terror attacks on Mumbai at the end of November 2008.
Overcoming the entrenched pessimism in both capitals about the prospects for a resumption of the bilateral dialogue,Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Pakistani premier Yusuf Raza Gilani crafted a bargain but on the key question of the link between cross-border violence and a sustained dialogue.
Many will argue that the bargain is shaky; others will insist that it provides the only exit from the blind alley that India and Pakistan have found themselves in since 26/11.
While Singhs strong commitment to the peace process and Gilanis flexibility had created the basis for a major diplomatic finesse in Thimphu,the two governments have much work to do before the Indo-Pak peace process finds the stable footing that it had enjoyed during 2004-07.
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Delhi,on its part,has agreed to resume the dialogue that it had suspended in the wake of the Mumbai attacks. Pakistan,in turn,has promised to address the strong Indian concerns on terrorism based on Pakistani soil.
The diplomatic rope-trick in Thimphu was about avoiding the perception of tough pre-conditions on Indias part and Pakistans willingness to address Delhis concerns without the appearance of taking Indian dictation on 26/11.
At the end of the meeting between the two Prime Ministers,Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mohammed Qureshi could claim that India had agreed for an unconditional resumption of the bilateral dialogue,one of Islamabads main demands since 26/11.
Foreign Secretary Nirupama Rao,on the other hand,could declare that Pakistan had agreed to address two of Indias main concerns on terrorism. One was to bring the trial of the Mumbai accused in Pakistan to an early closure and punish the guilty.
The other was Gilanis reaffirmation of the earlier Pakistani commitment not to let its soil be used for anti-India terror activity.
Until recently the current government in Pakistan was reluctant to endorse this promise of the previous regime in Islamabad led by Gen. Pervez Musharraf,which formed the basis for the peace process between the two countries during 2004-07.
Gilani also conceded the Indian argument that terrorism was impeding the peace process between the two countries.
India,on its part,underlined the willingness to address all issues of mutual concern. While Rao did not refer to them,she was pointing to the dispute over Jammu and Kashmir and water issue that had emerged at the top of Pakistani concerns.
Having gone the furthest in negotiating a solution to the Kashmir question,Singhs problem was about finding if Gilanis civilian government and the Pak Army Chief,Gen. Ashfaq Pervez Kayani,are on board with the framework for a J&K settlement that he had worked out with Gen Musharraf.
The dialogue itself is expected to be resumed after the two foreign secretaries and foreign ministers meet in the coming weeks and convert the mutual reassurances offered at Thimphu into trust-building through concrete action.
The absence of a reference to composite dialogue suggests that Gilani has agreed with Singh that the important thing is to discuss all issues in a result-oriented dialogue rather than sticking to the old nomenclature.
The biggest challenge for Singh and Gilani after Thimphu is the fact that Indo-Pak relations are so accident-prone; and opportune moments are rare and fleeting.
Singh knows that another major terror attack on India will shred his Thimphu bargain instantly. Having seen the dangers of moving slowly when circumstances were good,Singh probably sees the need to set a scorching pace for Indo-Pak dialogue this time around.
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