Originally Published 2005-05-24 11:54:59 Published on May 24, 2005
Since January, 2004, there has been a wind of change in Indo-Pak relations for which credit has to be equally shared by Shri Atal Behari Vajpayee, the former Prime Minister, and Dr.Manmohan Singh, the present. Rhetoric has given place to seeming reason and confrontation to conviviality.
Indo-Pak Mirage or Reality?
(An assessment on the completion of one year in office by the Government headed by Dr. Manmohan Singh)

Since January, 2004, there has been a wind of change in Indo-Pak relations for which credit has to be equally shared by Shri Atal Behari Vajpayee, the former Prime Minister, and Dr.Manmohan Singh, the present. Rhetoric has given place to seeming reason and confrontation to conviviality. Allegations and accusations against each other have given place to a more civilised and meaningful debate on the parameters of good neighbourly relations.

The channels of official communications between the two countries, which had been kept open at the best of times and at the worst of times before the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) Government came to power in 1998, had got clogged up, particularly after the Kargil conflict of 1999 and the jihadi terrorist attack on the Indian Parliament on December 13,2001. The cobwebs clogging up the channels have since been removed and the channels have once again been functioning as they ought to between two neighbours and as they used to before 1998. Meetings between the officials of the two countries to discuss long-standing differences and issues of common interest such as the gas pipeline have become so frequent as to seem routine.

Exchanges of visits at the non-governmental level, which used to be a normal occurrence before 1996, have once again resumed. However, the exchanges are still largely confined to the two Punjabs. Leaders and people of Sindh, the North-West Frontier Province (NWFP) and Balochistan, who used to visit India regularly before 1996 to meet friends and relatives, participate in conferences and cultural events and meet our political leaders, have still remained largely uninvolved in the increasing people-to-people contacts. One need not despair. If the Punjabis are there, the non-Punjabis can't be far behind.

The new-born political maturity in both the capitals is reflected in their bold decision to extend the benefit of people-to-people contacts to the Kashmiris on both sides of the Line of Control (LOC). It is a good example of calculated risk-taking for mutual benefit.

Even the ground situation relating to cross-border terrorism is showing incipient signs of a possible change for the better. The more than a year old ceasefire across the LOC has held. Pakistan has given up its obstruction of the construction of an anti-infiltration fencing by India. Consequently, even according to the admission of the Government of India, cross-border infiltration of trained jihadi terrorists has registered a 60 per cent decrease.

There has been no major act of jihadi terrorism in Indian territory outside J&K since the August 25,2003, twin blasts in Mumbai. However, organisations such as the Lashkar-e-Toiba (LET) have not given up their efforts for reviving their activities in the Indian territory outside J&K, as seen by the unearthing of LET modules, which had planned operations in Dehra Dun, Bangalore and other places.

Bloody terrorist incidents continue in J&K. Innocent civilians continue to die. But, there has been no spectacular attack in recent months, barring odd ones like the terrorist strike in Srinagar on the eve of the inauguration of the Srinagar-Muzaffarabad bus service.

Pakistan has changed its tactics, but not its strategy of using terrorism to gain control of J&K one day if it is not able to do so across the table. The terrorist infrastructure in Pakistani territory is intact. So is their command and control. The only change that has occurred since January,2004, when Gen .Pervez Musharraf made his commitment during his talks with Shri Vajpayee not to allow acts of terrorism from Pakistan-controlled territory, is that the use of terrorism since then is largely confined to Kashmiri territory and is in calculated doses. It is no longer indiscriminate.

There is an undeclared national consensus on the wisdom of keeping up with the present policy of groping for genuine peace to replace the present seeming peace. Genuine peace demands change of attitudes and mindsets and introspection ---more in Islamabad than in New Delhi, more in the GHQ in Rawalpindi than in the Federal Secretariat in Islamabad.

Are there signs of such a change? Dr.Manmohan Singh seems to think so as seen from his positive observations when he briefed the senior editors of the Indian media after his talks with Musharraf at New Delhi in April. So did Vajpayee after his famous bus journey to Lahore and his talks with Nawaz Sharif, the then Prime Minister, in February,1999.

We let our guard down. We let ourselves be mentally demobilised against a long-standing adversary. In just six months, Shri Vajpayee's illusions came down like a castle built with a pack of cards.

Is Dr.Manmohan Singh living in a world of reality or has he mistaken a mirage for reality? He shares with Mr. Vajpayee, after having been in power for a year, the credit for giving a forward momentum to Indo-Pakistan relations. Will the momentum take us on the road to a golden era of peace or to another bout of dashed illusions, recriminations and bitterness?

Only an astrologer can hazard an answer to such questions. Not a professional analyst. An analyst can only point to the pitfalls ahead. He may be proved wrong in his skepticism, but it does not mean that skepticism needs to be ignored and treated with derision.

When Gen.de Gaulle came to power in France in 1958, he undertook a total revamp of its external intelligence agency. He asked his Staff Officer to prepare for him a short list of persons who can be considered for appointment as the intelligence chief.

His Staff Officer asked him: "Mon General, what type of people would you like me to suggest?"

de Gaulle thought for a while and replied: 'Mon Capitain. Get me a list of good pessimists. It is dangerous to have optimists in the intelligence profession. I want a good pessimist, who will keep warning me all the time of the dangers ahead even though I may not heed his warnings."

I am an intelligence professional to my finger tips. Pessimism is in my blood. I find it difficult to shake off this pessimism despite all the seemingly good things that have taken place in Indo-Pak relations under Dr.Manmohan Singh.

The writer is Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt. of India, New Delhi, and, presently, Director, Institute For Topical Studies, Chennai, and Distinguished Fellow and Convenor, Observer Research Foundation (ORF), Chennai Chapter. E-Mail: [email protected]

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