The people of India are not against talking to Pakistan. Indeed, nearly all political parties support dialogue. What they do not favour is India going into the talks with its eyes shut. What they do not approve of is profession of good neighbourliness unaccompanied by matching action.
‘Trust' is too loaded a term to be used in inter-state discourse; ‘confidence-building' is a well accepted phrase and is safer to employ. The new buzzword in India-Pakistan dialogue is ‘trust deficit.' Trust ‘deficit' presupposes that there is trust, only its quantity or/and quality have diminished. Was there ever a time when there was ‘trust' between the two countries?
The circumstances surrounding Pakistan's creation and its aggression in Kashmir ensured that there could be no ‘trust' between the countries. Indira Gandhi tried ‘trust' — she trusted Z.A. Bhutto to deliver on his promise of internationalising the Line of Control, made to her in Shimla — on the basis on which she agreed to all that she did in Shimla. Did Manmohan Singh trust Pervez Musharraf? We do not know but Indians cannot forget that the General was responsible for Kargil which cost us the lives of more than 800 of our best and bravest. Atal Bihari Vajpayee surely did not trust him after his experience at Agra.
It came as no surprise that our Prime Minister went all the way in Thimphu, responding positively to Pakistan's demand for resumption of dialogue at the political level. He jumped the several steps on Pakistan's ‘road map' and met his Pakistani counterpart in Bhutan for over an hour. Thus the road map suggested by Pakistan got reversed; it started at the highest political level and will be followed up at the ministerial and Secretary levels. He has set himself the vision of establishing cordial relations and is determined to shame Pakistan into good neighbourly behaviour.
Sometimes, this approach can work. Going by media reports quoting unnamed MEA sources, Pakistan seems to have sold the line that Yusuf Raza Gilani has armed himself with new and enhanced powers under the 18th amendment to Pakistan's Constitution, making him a worthy interlocutor for the serious discussion of all weighty issues. This may be overstating things a bit. Perhaps the ‘official sources' felt the need for this argument to justify to the public as well as sceptics within the ruling coalition the resumption of dialogue. The real question is whether Mr. Gilani has the authority to take decisions that the army, including the ISI, might not approve of or whether he would have to clear all the issues in dealing with India, Afghanistan, Kashmir, etc. first with the military. As for the Pakistan Peoples Party, Asif Ali Zardari seems to be in control, as evidenced by the fact that the government has decided to declare the Swiss cases against him ‘closed.' Mr. Gilani's claim to be the valid interlocutor with Dr. Singh must be taken with a fistful of salt.
It is essential that India does not engage Pakistan in talks without a clear idea of what it expects of the neighbour in terms of reducing the ‘trust deficit'; it cannot be simply a case of making a subjective judgment on whether Pakistan has done anything, or enough, to reduce the deficit. There are quantifiable criteria which can be spelt out and even publicly announced by our side.
At the same time, we must be objective in our analysis and approach. As for prosecuting the perpetrators of 26/11, a judicial process is on in Pakistan. After the role the judiciary has played in toppling Gen. Musharraf and considering the role it wants to play in applying the revocation of NRO to Mr. Zardari, it would not be fair to doubt its independence. By the same token, it is unfair on the part of those in Pakistan who cast aspersions on our judicial process — whereby the two Indians co-accused with Kasab were acquitted of all charges. We must note that the Pakistan government has not joined in these allegations.
The most important criterion has to do with terrorism. A statement by the Pakistan Prime Minister that his government will not allow Pakistan's territory to be used for terrorist acts against India does not, by itself, carry much meaning. It should be accompanied by specific action. There should be credible evidence of Pakistan vigorously pursuing the prosecution of the perpetrators of the Mumbai blasts. We need not keep harping on the slow pace of the process, so long as we are satisfied with the seriousness of the prosecution. Pakistan can certainly do more to contain Hafiz Saeed. It takes recourse to the unconvincing argument that it is unable to produce admissible evidence against this terrorist, but it can definitely take administrative action to bring him under control.
A related test is the rate of infiltration across the LoC. Our government has officially declared that it has gone up, and is a matter of concern. It should not at all be difficult to determine whether Pakistan has taken any measure to eliminate, or at least significantly reduce, infiltration. Similarly, the terrorist training camps — the existence of which in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir and elsewhere is a known fact — should be dismantled. This is another assessable factor.
Pakistan managed to introduce Balochistan in Sharm-El Sheikh in the official India-Pakistan dialogue. However, no less a person than its Foreign Minister said, post-Thimphu, that Dr. Singh had categorically assured his Pakistani counterpart that India had no intention of destabilising Pakistan. The fact that Shah Mehmood Qureshi mentioned this to the Pakistani media suggests that he and his government were satisfied that India was not in any way involved in Balochistan; it should, therefore, refrain from bringing it up in future discussions with us or others.
It follows that Pakistan should stop objecting to the presence of our consulates in Afghanistan. Similarly, it should stop protesting against our development assistance to Afghanistan which has no hidden anti-Pakistan agenda. In fact, it can join India in some of the projects. This will help in persuading General McChrystal not to make gratuitous remarks about our assistance to Afghanistan — of the kind he made in his written report to President Barack Obama.
We should expect that Pakistan too will have its yardstick to assess whether or not India has done enough to reduce the trust ‘deficit'. Kashmir would be on top of its agenda. We should not shy away from discussing Kashmir. After all, it is our territory it has occupied illegally for the past six decades; why should we not discuss with Pakistan the ways and means of getting the occupied territory vacated? If it brings up the long-dead United Nations resolutions, as its Foreign Minister recently did raise in its National Assembly, it will indicate that it is not serious about discussing Kashmir. In any case, is Pakistan ready to pull out all its forces, regular and irregular, from PoK, which is a condition precedent to the holding of any referendum? It is also worth recalling that the U.N. resolutions give only two options to the Kashmiri people — accession to India or Pakistan. Azadi is not an option.
We must not feel embarrassed or go on the defensive if Pakistan wants to talk Kashmir. We must also not revive the Musharraf deposit about his so-called four-point proposal. We must not leave Pakistan in any doubt that the only solution, which in any case will need endorsement from the Indian Parliament, is to convert the LoC into an international border. If Pakistan does not agree, we will be under no compulsion to offer anything by way of ‘out-of-the-box' proposals. In any case, we must not agree to any ‘confidence-building' measure which would give Pakistan a locus standi, however indirect, in the affairs of the Valley, in a consultative or any kind of mechanism. ‘Trust' must have its limits. We can certainly agree on and encourage more people-to-people contacts, etc.
Of late, Pakistan has whipped up domestic sentiment against India on the water issue. It will certainly bring it up in any dialogue with us. Here, it is important to acknowledge that Mr. Qureshi has publicly admitted that the water woes of Pakistan are a consequence of its own mismanagement of its resources and that India is not to blame. If Pakistan has specific complaints, it should be encouraged to raise them within the framework of the Indus Waters Treaty. However irrational, Pakistanis are not suicidal; they know that the IWT is much more generous to them than to India and they would not want to renegotiate it.
The people of India are not against talking to Pakistan. Indeed, nearly all political parties support dialogue. What they do not favour is India going into the talks with its eyes shut. What they do not approve of is profession of good neighbourliness unaccompanied by matching action, and repetition of the usual mantras of not allowing Pakistan's territory for terrorism against India. They are also not convinced that asking for American intervention is the right or dignified thing to do; it gives an image of an India that is not self-confident. We must have well defined criteria or benchmarks, some of which have been spelt out above, to judge whether or not Pakistan has done anything to reduce the ‘trust deficit.' If the civilian government in Islamabad can deliver on the issues, we would welcome it.