After Thimphu, trust building key to emerging dialogue template
The recent empowerment of Pakistani prime minister Yusuf Raza Gilani and his favourable disposition towards peace were important factors in India’s willingness to put the dialogue process back on track.
Providing the first detailed account of the meeting between Prime Minister Manmohan and Mr. Gilani in Thimphu on April 28, senior officials said the question of ‘who India should talk to’ had been answered by the 18th amendment to the Pakistani constitution which enhanced the authority of the prime minister.
But personal equations between the two principals also mattered. “They do manage to communicate well with one another”, an official said. “There is a certain chemistry”. Last year, when Dr. Singh was under fire following the Sharm el-Sheikh summit, Mr. Gilani batted for him by telling reporters that what the Prime Minister had said in Parliament about the controversial joint statement ‘is what we agreed’. Dr. Singh had put an Indian spin on the terror-dialogue delinking issue but the Pakistani PM chose not to score points. “We remember that”, an Indian official told The Hindu. “He seems to be favourably disposed towards peace”.
India is prepared to move ahead on the basis of Mr. Gilani’s latest assurances because the 18th amendment had legally empowered him, the sources said. “In fact, Gilani told us, ‘I’ve come with the authority. I have the support of everyone’.” The sources also appreciated the fact that his statements on India had always been relatively restrained. “Until you show him a door, he has no incentive to start doing anything [about our concerns]. And you give your enemies the chance to say, ‘Look, India is not prepared to budge even a bit’.” Why should we allow them to fuse all Pakistanis behind them, the officials asked.
The sources said India and Pakistan came to Thimphu with constraints but agreed to lower the pitch. “We have opened the door to dialogue. The purpose is to restore trust. That’s what the foreign ministers and foreign secretaries have been tasked to do … This is not a dialogue to solve all issues immediately but to restore trust”.
The officials said Dr. Singh made it clear it is terrorism from Pakistan which has been preventing dialogue. “One of the most important things to restore trust is credible action by Pakistan”. Trust was a dynamic process, the sources said, adding that the “best scenario” would be one where the 26/11 trial ends soon with convictions, Pakistan takes “credible action” against terrorist groups and the dialogue moves alongside. “We had two choices at Thimphu. First, to have ‘talks about talks’. This was the weasel option, of endless arguments about terrorism lists, Kashmir, water etc. The second was to recognise that if the problem is lack of trust, let’s make trust the issue. It opens [things] up”.
Asked if this was a new template, the officials said, “I don’t think you can give it a name. The advantage of this is that it is open. It has potential”.
The one-on-one meeting between the two prime ministers was about clearing the air, the sources said, and not a ‘negotiations meeting’. Mr. Gilani spoke about the problems Pakistan was facing in dealing with terrorism. Dr. Singh replied that the slow pace of the 26/11 trial and the threats being issued by Lashkar-e-Taiba chief Hafiz Saeed were a source of frustration for India. Mr. Gilani said he understood India’s concerns and that his government would find a legal way to address them