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Failure foretold

columns Updated: Jul 25, 2010 01:29 IST

I want to ask a controversial question this Sunday morning: how much of the blame for last week’s Indo-Pakistan denouement lies with India? Could it be the case that there was a gap between our public pronouncements and our actual position? As a result, did we lead Pakistan up the garden path only to disappoint when the moment of truth arrived? The answer may not be as straightforward as you think.

Since Thimphu it’s been India’s case that we want to bridge the trust deficit and, to do so, we’re ready to discuss all issues. Foreign Minister SM Krishna made this crystal clear with his formal statement on arrival. “During my stay in Islamabad, I, along with my delegation, am looking forward to my meetings with Foreign Minister [S.M.] Qureshi and his delegation. We hope to discuss all issues of mutual interest and concern that can contribute to restoring trust and building confidence in our bilateral relationship.”

However, the next day India seems to have taken a different line. As the foreign ministry has subsequently revealed — through an unnamed senior source speaking anonymously, a tradition it has of late developed — India was not prepared to discuss Kashmir, Siachen and peace and security. The most it would accept was an agreement to do so in the future at “an appropriate time”, but refused to specify when that would be.

The senior source also revealed “we needed a certain catalysing process … we needed progress on terrorism”. Consequently, India’s position was that “the appropriate time” to discuss Kashmir, Siachen and peace and security would be determined by “progress on terrorism”.

Now, as I read it, this is substantially different to what we’ve heard since Thimphu and clearly contrary to what Krishna formally said on arrival in Pakistan. There are two possible explanations. First, the Indian side changed its mind after reaching Islamabad. But if that’s the case, what provoked the change? Frankly, I cannot fathom. I would, therefore, say this is an unlikely explanation.

The second is that India, from the outset, did not intend to discuss these issues but did not make that clear. In fact, as Krishna’s statement shows, it said something else. If the second explanation is correct, it explains Pakistan’s acrimonious response. After all, just as terror is important to India, Kashmir, Siachen and peace and security are of equal significance to Pakistan. By prioritising the first over the other three India was placing issues that are of prime concern to Delhi ahead of those that are of prime concern to Islamabad.

The inexplicable bit is that in the past India has frequently discussed the three subjects it fought shy of. Another round would not have changed anything leave aside damage India’s case. More importantly, agreeing to discuss them would have given the Pakistanis something to show to their domestic opinion. That matters as much in Islamabad as it does in Delhi. None of this, of course, minimises, excuses or forgives Qureshi’s outbursts on television. But they were a consequence of the collapse not the cause of it.

The question I want to raise is this: did India mishandle the approach to the talks and, consequently, mislead the Pakistanis? At the very least Krishna’s statement suggests we were not upfront and transparent. In fact, I doubt if anyone in India thought we would not set a date to discuss Kashmir or Siachen. So if the Pakistanis felt the same — and then felt let down — are you surprised?

The views expressed by the author are personal