Talk therapy to defrost links
On 29 September, it was New York again. And frosty it remained as prime minister Manmohan Singh met his Pakistan counterpart, Nawaz Sharif for the first time since the latter’s reelection in May this year. Both PMs had gone to the Big Apple to address the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA), an annual calendar event, and over the last decade New York has emerged as a steady venue for Indo-Pak talks.
The desirable goal – peace – though remains elusive despite a stoic attempt on Singh’s part to keep the talks channel switched on even as the main opposition party back home called for the meeting to be cancelled in the backdrop of the terror attack on an army base in Jammu that left 10 people, including armymen, dead.
Significantly, Singh upped the decibel level and talked tough ahead of the Sunday meeting, calling Pakistan the epicentre of terror and stating in unambiguous terms, ‘There must be a clear understanding of the fact that Jammu and Kashmir is an integral part of India and there can never, ever, (be) a compromise with the unity and territorial integrity of India.’
While this could be verbiage ahead of the elections, experts say it still is commendable on the PM’s part, for it would have been easier, and populist as well, for him to call off the meet in light of increased terror attacks in Jammu and Kashmir as well as reported Pakistani firing along the LoC.
At the least the meeting brought out was an agreement that meetings between directors general of military operations (DGMO), entrusted the onus of maintaining ‘peace and tranquility at the LoC’, should continue. New Delhi also raised the issue of trial for the perpetrators of November 2008 (26/11) terror attack on Mumbai and funding of terrorist organisations like Jamaat ul-Dawa.
‘All such high-level contacts indicate a new stage,’ national security adviser Shivshanker Menon said while briefing the media in New York after the Singh-Sharif dialogue.
Pakistan, though, remained non-committal without giving any specifics on any issue. On the 26/11 trial, Pakistan foreign secretary Jalil Abbas Jilani said, ‘The commission (Pakistan judicial commission) has just returned (from India) and will be filing its report. Based on that, we hope to speed up the trial.’
The composite dialogue also did not return on agenda, as New Delhi made it clear that it is not the best time until firm assurances from Islamabad is had on stopping cross-border terrorism.
It is commonly said in international relations that ‘no two democracies have ever gone to war with each other’. While that has been true for the last several years – Pakistan has had democratically elected governments since 2008, the longest stretch in the troubled nation’s history – the terror attacks and border skirmishes are not exactly insignificant for either country.
Stephen Cohen, the renowned US expert on Indo-Pak relations, says in his latest book (Shooting for a Century: The India-Pakistan Conundrum) that ‘a century after partition, till 2047, there will be no substantive change in the relationship.’ In such a scenario, the meetings in New York on the sidelines of the UNGA, is set to continue as annual features for three more decades, along with a few new venues and other prime ministers, as the leaders from both countries sit down to discuss an issue bugging both nations for nearly seven decades now.
On arrangement with GovernanceNow