Dialogue continues despite strain

Even though the process of détente between India and Pakistan has come under strain, the fifth round of the composite dialogue got under way with the Foreign Secretary-level talks on July 21. The possibility of a slide back to the days of acrimony arose after New Delhi accused elements in the neighbouring country of involvement in the July 7 bomb attack on Indian embassy in Kabul. In refuting the allegation, Islamabad has cautioned that instead of playing the blame game, there should be recourse to the joint mechanism set up to deal with the issue of terrorism. There is merit in its argument that the mechanism should be improved and not abandoned if it is found to be not working as desired. New Delhi cannot be faulted for airing its concerns because obviously the talks cannot be fruitful if the atmosphere is vitiated by terrorist violence. The same rationale underscores India’s protests against the increase, from the beginning of 2007, in violations of the ceasefire along the Line of Control as well as in cross-border infiltration. At the same time, the complexities and nuances of the political situation in Pakistan have been taken into account. The elected government of Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gillani, which has indicated its desire for a peaceful resolution of all disputes, has not been able to impose its will on the permanent establishment, especially the intelligence services. While signalling that it is fully alert to the mischief that these rogue elements can cause, New Delhi has shown its willingness to work with the Gillani government by agreeing to implement additional confidence-building measures.

At the Foreign Secretary-level talks, India and Pakistan agreed to increase the frequency of the two cross-LOC bus services from a fortnightly to a weekly basis. They also decided to extend the period for which across-LOC permits would be granted and to shorten the time for processing these documents. These steps have been taken at a time when India is in the midst of an intense domestic political battle and has not got over the trauma of the Kabul attack. The Manmohan Singh government remains firmly committed to the dialogue and the Gillani government has signalled that it is willing to go the extra mile. Its recently announced trade policy offers Indian business houses a promising opportunity to invest in Pakistan. Islamabad has also expanded in a significant way the positive list of goods that can be imported from India. While the détente process has come under strain in recent days, both countries have made it clear they intend to stay with it.

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