Thursday, March 31, 2011

Bilateral Relations: India, Pakistan rediscovering each other

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"Any exercise to demotivate the Pakistani state and help it to rid itself of its fears---which are seen by its army as real and by India as imaginary--- has to start with frequent and sustained interactions between the institutions of the two countries---- political parties to political parties, parliament to parliament, army to army, intelligence to intelligence, Foreign Office to Foreign Office and Home Ministry to Home Ministry. Increasing institutional contacts is as important as increasing people to people contacts to remove imaginary fears of each other.

How to achieve this increase in institutional interactions between India and Pakistan.? That should be the basic question to be addressed. It should be addressed in the context of an over-all vision statement between the two countries. The imaginary fears are more in Pakistan’s mind than in our mind. The Indian Prime Minister should take the initiative for visiting Pakistan to set the ball rolling towards an agreed common vision. "

2. So I wrote in my paper of March 15,2011, titled "Is it Possible to Visualise A Shared Future for India & Pakistan? " available at

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This paper was written by me at the request of Prof. Stephen Cohen of the Brookings Institution, US, for an edited volume on Pakistan's future that he intends bringing out.

3. In the background of these suggestions, it is gratifying to note that the two concrete outcomes of the wide-ranging "conversations" between visiting Prime Minister Yousef Raza Gilani and our Prime Minister Dr.Manmohan Singh at Mohali on March 30,2011, have been exchanges of visits by parliamentary delegations of the two countries and an invitation from Mr.Gilani to our Prime Minister to visit Pakistan. The invitation has not yet been formally accepted by our Prime Minister, but during her media briefing at Mohali on March 30 , our Foreign Secretary,Mrs.Nirupama Rao, gave an indication that we are having an open mind on this issue.

4. How to give a forward push to the relations between the two countries without creating an euphoria which may prove to be unwarranted and may come back to haunt us should there be a fresh terrorist strike originating from Pakistan organised by elements determined to derail the "re-engagement" and "re-connecting" process at the top political level set in motion by the two Prime Ministers? That is the question that has been sought to be addressed by the two Prime Ministers during their "conversations". The Foreign Secretary underlined that what the two Prime Ministers had during their interactions at Mohali were "wide-ranging conversations" and not "talks" .

5. The apparently deliberate attempt to avoid a joint statement or a joint media briefing at the end of Mr.Gilani's visit was to create and maintain an air of relaxed informality about the process of "re-engagement" started by the two Prime Ministers without giving it an over-projected formal cloak that could have proved counter-productive.

6. What one saw at Mohali was a refreshingly different approach to the exercise to impart a strategic new dimension to the bilateral relations. There are two defining characteristics of this new approach---- a carefully calibrated "re-engagement" process begun and taken charge of by the two Prime Ministers themselves and the continuation of the resumed dialogue process agreed upon by the two Prime Ministers when they met in Thimpu last year under the watch of concerned Ministers and senior bureaucrats.

7. The first stage of the resumed dialogue process was completed just before the two Prime Ministers met at Mohali when the Home/Interior Secretaries of India and Pakistan met at New Delhi and reached some positive agreements on issues arising from the 26/11 terrorist strikes in Mumbai and decided to set up a hotline between the two of them to enable faster and direct communications as part of a joint approach to internal security.The Home/Interior Secretaries' meeting is expected to be followed by a meeting---possibly in July---between P.Chidambaram, India's Home Minister, and Rehman Malik, Pakistan's Interior Minister.Thus, the two Prime Ministers have left it to their Ministers responsible for Internal Security the responsibility for finding mutually acceptable solutions to the issues relating to terrorism that could come n the way of the "re-engagement" process.

8. The resumed dialogue process set in motion at Thimpu would continue with forthcoming meetings between the Commerce and Foreign Secretaries of the two countries followed by meetings at ministertial level. The strategic "re-engagement" process and the tactical "dialogue process" will move side by side with the two Prime Ministers focussing on the "re-engagement" proces and concerned Ministers and officials focussing on continuing the dialogue process.

9. To prevent an attempt to derail the "re-engagement"process by elements which are against it, it is important that the "wide-ranging conversations" initiated at Mohali are kept moving forward by the two Prime Ministers by taking an early decision by our Prime Minister on his acceptance of the invitation from Gilani and by quick follow-up on the visits of parliamentary delegations.

10.The goodwill and the benign interest in each other generated by the World Cup cricket semi-final was taken advantage of by our Prime Minister to make the "re-engagement" and "re-connecting" process possible. He should readily accept the reported suggestion of Gilani for a friendly cricket match between the two teams in Pakistan in the near future and visit Pakistan to keep this process of strategic discovery of each other going forward. (31-3-11)

The writer is Additional Secretary(retd), Cabint Secretariat, Govt. of India, New Delhi, and, presently, Director, Institute For Topical Studies, Chennai, and Associate of the Chennai Centre For China Studies.