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Asian Tribune is published by World Institute For Asian Studies|Powered by WIAS Vol. 12 No. 2785

One step forward two steps backward

By Sarla Handoo - Syndicate Features

Even as India and Pakistan strive to come closer, the impression they leave behind is clearly of one step forward and two steps backward movement. That is because when they appear to sort out issues one by one, some invisible hand appears on the horizon to stall the process, raising doubts about the very process of normalization.

The latest instance is the failure to come to an agreement on the resolution of the Siachen issue. The representatives of the both sides deliberated for two days in New Delhi but got stuck on the same point that has been raising its ugly head each time an attempt has been made to tackle it. While India wants the ground positions held by Indian and Pakistani troops to be demarcated on a map, before any withdrawal can take place, Pakistan has been resisting this.

What clearly comes into play is the trust deficit even after implementing a number of Confidence Building Measures (CBMs) across the Line of control during the last two years.

Going by the track record of Indo- Pak relations over the past 58 years, India is justified in being wary about each step it takes. After all the monster of Kargil conflict is still haunting it. It is difficult for New Delhi to forget that while the then Indian Prime Minister Vajpayee undertook a trip to Lahore to start a new chapter of Indo- Pak relations, Pervez Musharraf, the then Army chief , was busy in launching infiltration into India in the Kargil sector!

In this backdrop it would be unreasonable for Pakistan to expect India to accept troop’s withdrawal from Siachen without first mapping out the positions held on the ground. Why does not then Pakistan accept it and pave the way for demilitarization of the region, a term so fondly used by General Musharraf? If this is not happening, as it appears to be, it will certainly be construed as a step in the reverse direction as far as the process of normalization of relation is concerned.

Siachen is a godforsaken area, which has cost thousands of lives of soldiers on both sides. The extremely inhospitable climate has left thousands maimed for rest of their lives. It has been a big drain on the exchequers of the two countries. It is an area which has no economic interest for either country. In such a situation it would certainly be in the interest of both countries to withdraw troops to backward positions and leave the area as a no man’s land.

Ironically, both countries want that to happen, yet are unable to execute it. Merely by agreeing to continue the discussions, as the bland joint statement issued at the end of two day talks held in New Delhi puts it, is not going to serve the purpose.

The revelation by the spokesman of the Taliban in Afghanistan that the Indian Telecommunication engineer Suryanarayana was killed at the behest of Pakistan and not on the command of Taliban leadership has stoked the fire of mistrust between India and Pakistan. Notwithstanding Pakistan’s Foreign Office spokesperson denying the credentials of the Taliban spokesman, it has put a spanner in the normalization process.

And to top it all, the series of terrorist attacks in Jammu and Kashmir in the recent past for which militant organizations with known bases in Pakistan have claimed responsibility, have cast a shadow of doubt on Pakistan’s intentions vis-à-vis India and Kashmir.
Islamabad may as well claim that the decision of the Hurriyat Conference in Jammu and Kashmir to stay away from the Round Table Conference (RTC) on Kashmir was Hurriyat’s own decision and Pakistan has nothing to do with it. But the pressures by Pak- sponsored militant organizations against the moderate faction of Hurriyat against towing a soft-line are a pointer that cannot glossed over. That President Pervez Musharraf has hailed the conference as a step in the right direction could be more for diplomatic consumption than an expression of real political intent.

The Dawood Ibrahim factor is also there. Pakistan has been giving a free hand to Dawood since he moved to Karachi after engineering the Mumbai serial blasts in 1993. In fact, it has been refusing even to admit that Dawood lives in Pakistan. If Musharraf is now turning the screws on Dawood, whom Bush Administration has declared as a “specially designated global terrorist’ with links to Al Qaeda, it is because Pakistan has begun to realise that Dawood is becoming a liability for it. Unfortunately it has taken 13 years for Islamabad to realise this. It took almost the same number of years for Pakistan to realise that terrorism is a double edged weapon and it can strike at the perpetrators as well, in due course of time.

The outcome of the talks on Sir Creek has been relatively promising. Though much could have been done in demarcating the area, the two sides have at least agreed to conduct a joint survey both on land and the maritime area for demarcation purposes.

The Home Ministers of the two countries are to meet in Islamabad in a few days. It is high time that they make an honest appraisal of things and ensure that the peace process does not get derailed by either of the two sides refusing to look at the ground realities.

- Syndicate Features -

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