Originally Published 2010-07-26 00:00:00 Published on Jul 26, 2010
The day after External Affairs Minister, S.M. Krishna, left for Islamabad front-page headlines in mainstream English language dailies had set their preferred theme: "Krishna to nail Pak using Headley: In Islamabad Foreign Minister says he will harp on Headley revelation of ISI links to 26/11".
Reconstructing the dialogue
The day after External Affairs Minister, S.M. Krishna, left for Islamabad front-page headlines in mainstream English language dailies had set their preferred theme: “Krishna to nail Pak using Headley: In Islamabad Foreign Minister says he will harp on Headley revelation of ISI links to 26/11”. This was the three column, three-inch deep headline in the Hindustan Times.

The Hindu: “Krishna cites Headley proof”.

Indian Express: “Krishna’s Pakistan talks get a Headley preface”.

Times of India’s page one, single column headline, omits Headley’s name: “Krishna kicks off peace meet with hard talk”.

Mail Today, the only newspaper to have the visit covered by its Pakistani stringer, places the story on page five with a gentle headline: “Krishna on a voyage of peace in Pakistan”. One assumes the Mail, relying on its reporter, missed out on all the deep insights furnished by the Indian side which find reflection in the headlines, establishing the mood in which the talks must incubate. So, expect plenty of mutual invective in this quest for peace.

The Mail also provides the insight that Home Minister P Chidambaram, like Banquo’s ghost, lurked in the background, reminding the interlocutors that terror as a theme must supercede all Indo-Pak banter.

Pakistan has so much terror on its hands, both of import and export quality, that it can talk on this theme eternally.

Krishna turns out to be India’s first foreign minister in Pakistan at a phase in sub-continental affairs when Indo-Pak relations are not Pakistan’s first priority.

Pakistan is neck deep in Af-Pak, overstretched in the two Waziristans, Quetta, Afghanistan, and is dealing with an inconsistent United States, unsure of its Taliban “assets”. Pakistan is also living with danger of the Army’s possible Islamisation and internal political instability. Against this backdrop Indo-Pak talks are not the hottest news at the moment.

Little wonder, Pakistan’s principal English language Newspapers do not lead the front pages with Krishna. Dawn has a single column headline: “Peace talks with a hawkish tinge”.

The News mentions Krishna below the fold: “Krishna brings message of peace”. Pakistan’s hawkish Daily Jung, quotes Krishna, “India to resolve all issues with Pakistan”.

When Krishna’s Pakistan visit will be analyzed by Indian Pundits, Pakistan itself will be riveted on Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s visit on Monday to underpin the strategic dialogue with Pakistan. Since Clinton will then proceed to Kabul for an International Peace Conference, Pakistani columnists will go to town on “US takes the Pak route to Afghan peace!”

The Indo-Pak track in other words, will proceed but haltingly. In this step by step deliberation lies some hope for New Delhi being able to firm up the January 6, 2004 agreement signed in Islamabad that the “territory of Pakistan” will not be used for terrorism against India.

An unstated, psychological obstruction in Indo-Pak normalcy happens to be, in absentia, the persona of General Pervez Musharraf. It so happens that the most promising phase in Indo-Pak, and New Delhi-Srinagar tracks respectively was during Genneral Musharraf’s watch in Pakistan – 2002 to 2006.

The civilian leadership is averse to giving credit to Musharraf on any count. Since Manmohan Singh’s target is to arrive at the sort of understanding that was reached with Musharraf on, for instance, the LOC becoming “irrelevant”, the edifice has to be reconstructed, brick by brick, with such of the civilian leadership as exists in Islamabad.

Mind you, even on this brick by brick approach there are restraints since General Ashfaq Kayani has reverted to the pre-Musharraf incantations of the Pak army being primarily focused on India.

While New Delhi refocuses its foreign policy options, the track that can be given some acceleration is the one that stretches from New Delhi to Srinagar. Season of great hope had opened up in Srinagar with a “real” election in October, 2002. The National Conference was defeated and the Peoples Democratic Party came to power in coalition with the Congress.

Atal Behari Vajpayee’s talks with the Hurriyat, his epoch making visit to Islamabad on Jan 6 2004 and Kashmir Corps Commander Lt Gen Vinayak Patankar’s humane approach to Kashmiris, had all created an ambience of peace.

The emergence of the United Progressive Alliance in May 2004 retarded the process, not because Prime Minister Manmohan Singh applied breaks to it but because all transitions impeded continuity. But Manmohan Singh steadied himself and opened Kashmiri bus routes and transborder trade, inching towards the rendering of “borders irrelevant” policy.

Meanwhile, misfortune followed Musharraf in battalions until his ousting.

The arrival of Omar Abdullah in Kashmir promised a “new dawn” which, alas, did not materialize. After dithering, New Delhi has placed Kashmir very unobtrusively under P Chidambaram. Unfortunately, the cat leapt out of the bag inadvertently. When the Omar cabinet was “going through the motions” of discussing lifting the curfew on Shab-e-Meraj, Home Secretary G K Pillai announced in New Delhi the decision on national TV! “Bring in Governor’s rule, if you like, but please don’t insult us like this”, wailed members of the Kashmir cabinet.

Also, Commissioners of all state Ministries have been “ordered” (by the Centre) to submit progress reports of respective departments by the 9thof each month.

In other words, the state administration is now on a leash without dethroning the young Chief Minister. Slowly, devolution dialogues will follow. In time, progress on the New Delhi – Srinagar track will progress in step with the calibrated peace process with Islamabad. But what kind of Islamabad? The one paralyzed by terrorism and which is having to play its cricket home series against Australia in London at Lords, even as Krishna and Pakistan Foreign Minister Qureshi, well, talk.

Saeed Naqvi is Distinguished Fellow, Observer Research Foundation

Courtesy: The Friday Times, July 23-29, 2010.

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