Now that India and Pakistan have set up a joint mechanism to consider counter-terrorism measures, they must abandon the time-honoured practice of broadcasting allegations against each other. They must also follow through quickly on the decision announced at the end of the Foreign Secretary-level talks to hold quarterly flag meetings of local army commanders so that tension along the Line of Control is eliminated. There is no guarantee that the new joint mechanism will succeed but it must be given every chance to work. That the set-up will be headed by officials of Additional Secretary rank from the two foreign ministries augurs well. They should be able to deploy their diplomatic skills to ensure two things: the discussions on sensitive subjects must not get overheated; and the spirit of détente and mutual cooperation must be in command. With security and intelligence experts likely to make up the rest of the panel, there is every chance that hardball will be played. The challenge will be to ensure that it is fact-based and fair. New Delhi took a constructive approach when it decided, in effect, to wait for investigative progress before presenting material relating to the July 11 Mumbai terrorist explosions. Raising this with Islamabad before filing a charge sheet would have put the cart before the horse. The setting up of the joint mechanism will start making a real difference when it obviates the need for repeated assertions that Pakistan's intelligence services provide covert support to anti-India militant groups. As Prime Minister Manmohan Singh pointed out recently, failure to act against such groups is just as bad as proactive assistance.
In working the joint mechanism successfully, India and Pakistan need to overcome some ingrained habits. Islamabad must give up its habit of coming to the issue of cross-border terrorism in standard denial mode, regardless of the evidence that might turn up. New Delhi, on its part, needs to abandon the doctrine of linkage, which suggests that the process of détente and political dialogue is in jeopardy every time there is a major terrorist incident in India, even before evidence is found of the hand behind the incident. It is disappointing that the resolution of the Siachen and Sir Creek issues has been held up, with the Indian Army seeming to come in the way by citing a number of strategic reasons for not withdrawing from the glacier. Defence Minister A.K. Antony sounded a more positive note when he reiterated the default position that a withdrawal could be considered if Pakistan agreed to a demarcation of the Actual Ground Position Line. There is need for a stronger political push for India-Pakistan peace-building, cooperation, and friendship. The second-ranking member of the Cabinet and External Affairs Minister, Pranab Mukherjee, who is expected to visit Islamabad in the near future, is clearly the man for the job.