Keep the Maldives hope alive

A week from today, it will be exactly three years since the blasts went off in Mumbai to thwart what was perhaps the most promising peace process ever in the relations between Pakistan and India.
The relations went into a spin. The impasse is not yet quite resolved though the improvement in the relations has been significant enough for India’s minister for external affairs S.M. Krishna to say at Addu Atoll in the Maldives on November 9 that India’s “trust deficit with Pakistan is shrinking.” What can now be done to ensure that the deficit is completely overcome?

The warm remarks made by the two Prime Ministers, Manmohan Singh and Syed Yousuf Raza Gilani, after their meeting in Addu City on November 10, do give ground for hope. But it would be unrealistic to ignore the distrust that still remains, its range and its causes.
India has not declared a closure on the Mumbai blasts case. It views Pakistan’s responses to its concerns favourably but also warily. Pakistan is eager to resume the interrupted dialogue in right earnest. It is aware of the fact that India is not unwilling to participate in it but wonders how far it proposes to go. India needs to assure its public that there is substantial movement in the Mumbai blast case in the court in Pakistan. Pakistan needs to assure the people that this is not an excuse by India to postpone a real dialogue on the core issues, Kashmir in particular.
On November 12, Dr Singh told the media on board his special aircraft while returning home, that “Pakistan has now agreed to send a judicial commission. India has agreed to accept it; modalities are being worked out and some progress in that area is there” — at long last after three years. Two days earlier, Pakistan’s interior minister
Rehman Malik had said at Addu City that Ajmal Kasab, under a sentence of death, “is a terrorist, a non-state actor who should go to the gallows, and his accomplices too.” The accomplices are on trial in Pakistan.
That is fine. More pertinent, however, are his remarks on the judicial commission, an area in which India’s Prime Minister sees “some progress.” It is crucially important in the historically accident-prone relations between the two countries that, at the end of the day, that commission’s report helps to break the impasse on the Mumbai blasts issue and does not congeal it rendering the progress registered so far to a naught.
The objectives and functions of the commission need clarification. It is a judicial commission, not an investigating body out to probe the matter afresh. If its remit is to collect evidence for use in the trial in Pakistan, it would be a step forward. The interior minister’s exposition of the raison de’tre of the judicial commission is important.
Mr Malik said on November 9 that on arrival in India the commission would take the testimonies of the chief judicial magistrate and the doctors who conducted autopsies on the bodies of the other nine gunmen killed. He added, “The judicial commission has a limited mandate. They’ll be in India any time after we hear from the Indian side… Once that commission goes to India, its findings are important for the judicial process in Pakistan. When the findings are there, they will be concerning all the legal sides. Then, there will be some judicially satisfactorily statement.”
This explains Dr Singh’s optimism; “some progress in that area is there.” This also explains the positive statements by both sides on the prospects of a wider dialogue on the core issues. As Dr Singh said, “We have wasted a lot of time in acrimonious debate... The time has come to write a new chapter in relations… And, therefore, we have decided that we will resume this dialogue with the expectation that all issues which have bedevilled relations between our two countries will be discussed with all the sincerity that our two countries can bring to bear on these talks.” Satisfied that the dialogue would be comprehensive and thus meet his concerns, Mr Gilani said: “I have discussed all issues, all core issues, and also the issues related to water, related to terrorism, related to Sir Creek, related to Siachen, related to trade, related to Kashmir.” Optimism about the future was reflected in Pakistan’s foreign minister Hina Rabbani Khar’s striking phrase that the “Thimphu spirit” had given way to the “Addu hope”.
Next year is pre-election year in Pakistan; 2013 will be pre-election year in India. Even without the issue of the Mumbai blasts, the parties are none too ready to settle the core issues; ironically their respective positions are none too far either. On Kashmir a broad framework does exist as it does, indeed, on Siachen. Sir Creek is all but resolved. On all three it is the lack of political resolve that is holding up a settlement. It would be unwise, given the domestic predicament of the leadership of both countries, to rush headlong into a formal dialogue and court disaster.
But two steps can be taken to keep Addu hopes alive. One is to institute back channels on all four sensitive issues pending — Kashmir, Siachen, Sir Creek and Wullar lake. Another is to promote with determination increase in trade, liberalisation of the visa system, cultural exchanges, provide uplinking facilities to each other’s TV channels and remove the cross-LoC trade from the prison of a barter system by installing banking and communication facilities. There is something else besides — a highly professional quiet back channel on Afghanistan.

The writer is an advocate in the Supreme Court of India

By arrangement with Dawn

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