On July 15th, when External Affairs Minister of India S M Krishna will meet his Pakistani counterpart Mahmood Qureshi in Islamabad, it will mark the resumption of the Indo-Pak Talks which has been torpid since the 26/11 Mumbai attack. The decision to resume talk at Foreign Minister level was taken on the sidelines of the recent SAARC summit at Thimphu. The talks ‘without any preconditions’, in a sense, is vindication of Pakistan’s constant demand for talk. Pakistan authority was saying for a long time that talks are the only solution. Though not much is expected of this talk, the clear agenda is to ‘restore trust’ between the two countries. Trust deficit is, no doubt, the major problem between the two nations, but the question is can the trust be restored to the pre 26/11 situation.
The approach of Pakistan is unique. They haven’t said a word against the Indian authorities even though Indian Home Minister P Chidambaram and Law Minister Veerappa Moily had made harsh statement cautioning Pakistan not to export terror to India after the Kasab verdict. Pakistan used cautious words with clear intention- ‘not to annoy India’. The reason for such a new approach for the peace process may be the internal power shift of Pakistan. After the 18th amendment of Pakistani constitution, the Prime Minister is now the real head of the country and it is known that the Pak PM Yusuf Raza Gilani is not a hardliner. Gilani assured Indian PM be that they will do everything to punish the Mumbai attack perpetrators. He has an able Foreign minister in Shah Mahmood Qureshi who is an able diplomat. After taking charge of the office in 2008, Qureshi immediately made clear that he was committed to “establishing peace in the region and that maintaining friendly ties with neighboring India were amongst his top priorities.” He has proved to be an assertive, knowledgeable and very intelligent foreign minister. He has been asking India to come to the table for talks. In fact, this was not supported by others in Pakistan as it showed Pakistan to be begging for talks. But today, India coming to talks can be seen as a win for Pakistan’s (or Qureshi’s) diplomacy.
Another factor that helped the two nations to resume talk is the US’ back-screen diplomacy. It is in US’ favor that the two nations restart their dialogue process as it will make Pakistan able to shift some of the forces from the eastern borders to the western borders where US forces need them to fight against the Taliban. On the other hand, as Indo-US strategic talks are about to start and India wants to convert the relationship with the US into a partnership, it also give in to the US wish. Remember, Pakistan too wants a similar ‘partnership’ with US. So they are more than happy to talk with India.
Indian PM Manmohan Singh was also very keen to restart the talk process. It is being reported that PM wants to be remembered in the history as a PM who helped to establish peace between India and Pakistan. Pakistan issue is very close to his heart after the Nuclear Deal. It is his eagerness to resume talks that created the Sharm El Seikh blunder and the present resumption is also the result of his avidness. In fact, to defy any unwanted situation like the Sharm El Sheikh one, this time there was no joint statement was issued. Now, that the talks are back on track, it is to be seen how the PM leads the Indian side.
Pakistan gave enough space to India by including Terrorism as an issue that will be discussed during the talks. Other issue that will be discussed are the Kashmir issue and the water dispute. While Terrorism is India’s issue, water disputes is Pakistan’s. As India will like to take grill Pakistan over its dill-dallying of 26/11 case, Pakistan, too, will use water dispute as a weapon to embarrass India. It is to be seen how effectively India takes up the Terrorism issue with Pakistan, not just the 26/11 case but the terror camps running on its soil and also about people like Hafeez Saeed who are walking free.
Regarding water dispute, India will have to answer about its lack of transparency about projects it is building on the rivers that flow into Pak. As per the 1960 Indus Waters Treaty(IWT) India can use the water from the Sutlez, the Beas and the Ravi. India can use limited water from the Indus, the Jhelum and the Chenab. It can construct dams ensuring that not large amount of water is stored or diverted. India is alleged to have hiding these figures from Pakistan. As water dispute is an emotive issue in Pak (Terrorist organizations say that India have plans to turn Pakistan into a barren land by restricting water and many in Pakistan believe it), India needs to deal with this issue assertively and transparently.
But the question that still remains is “Can the trust be restored?”. The question is unanswerable due to the history between the two countries. In 1999, when Nawaz Sharif was busy in Bus diplomacy with Indian PM Atal Bihari Vajpayee, his general Pervez Mussharaf was planning Kargil. In fact, recently we have got the news that the Pakistan side had fired on Indian side violating ceasefire. So the Indian government should remain alert and act wisely while dealing with Pakistan. Regarding the question, only time will tell if the trust can be restored.