India isn’t being overtly ambitious about its renewed engagement with Pakistan. It views External Affairs Minister S.M. Krishna’s talks next month with Shah Mahmood Qureshi as an opportunity to break the ice and build trust rather than taking up substantive issues like Kashmir that need to be backloaded in anticipation of a conducive climate.
“Since the Thimpu meeting between the two Prime Ministers, our earnest effort has been to first create trust and then slowly move on to the unresolved agenda,” a top government official here said. He said New Delhi’s dialogue strategy would factor in the Pak civilian leadership’s equations with the army and their reluctance to firmly deal with terrorist groups that are a threat to India.
“We believe in talking to the elected government, not the generals. We (also) understand their predicament (in dealing with groups like the LeT); we understand what’s happening between them and Gen. Kayani. We’ll factor that in our talks,” said the official. He was responding to suggestions that the army’s de facto clout in Pakistan’s power troika had not altered. The constitutional reforms have merely transferred powers from “a civilian president to a civilian prime minister.”
The question is relevant as India’s decision to engage Islamabad — despite its half-hearted pursuit of the culprits of 26/11 — is a test as much of Prime Minster Yusuf Raza Gilani’s ability to deliver on Indo-Pak issues, notably terrorism, in his new avatar.
Krishna’s July 15 journey to Islamabad would follow Home Minister P. Chidambaram’s June 28 visit for a SAARC conference that will afford him an interaction with his Pakistani counterpart Rahman Malik. From all available indications, the outcome of the first meeting — the focus of which will be 26/11 — will tell how far the two neighbours can go in building trust in the fight against terror.
The official said the Pakistani leadership’s “change of attitude and eagerness to engage India in a dialogue” set the basis for the understanding reached on the sidelines of the SAARC summit in Thimpu. There was synergy because Prime Minister Manmohan Singh never shut the door for talks.
Dispelling the impression of being Pak-centric, the official said equal time and energy was invested in building relations and resolving issues with other countries in the neighbourhood: China, Nepal, Bhutan, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh.
India’s efforts are directed at safeguarding national interest in Nepal, the official claimed. On the obtaining constitutional crisis there, he said the Maoists’ anti-India rhetoric was no source of comfort.
“But we want Prime Minister Madhav Nepal to talk to Maoists so that they can write their constitution and hold elections under it.”
Channels have been kept open with all parties, including the CPN (Maoists), whose leader Prachanda lately toned-down tirades against India on Krishna’s advice.
“We don’t want in Nepal an outcome that spells chaos or instability or is inimical to India,” the official said. “We can’t tell them who’ll be their PM. Right now Madhav Nepal is the PM and we support him.”