The foreign secretary-level talks that concluded in New Delhi on Wednesday have been an undoubted success. Their principal achievement has been to impart much needed momentum to the India-Pakistan peace process. Perhaps of greater significance is the fact that both countries have signed on to a small insurance policy to strengthen the dialogue framework in the form of a joint mechanism to fight terrorism. Domestic critics of the joint mechanism have tended to see it as a ‘stand alone’ issue, which they say detracts from India’s efforts to fight terrorism. Actually, the mechanism is a means of safeguarding the talks process from interruptions created by incidents organised by terrorists to disrupt the process.
It is a noticeable phenomenon that whenever the peace process gains some impetus, a terrorist incident takes place, followed by bouts of finger-pointing and recriminations. The mechanism provides a limited means of preventing such incidents from dislocating the peace process. The Indian side has made it clear, however, that it will expect some tangible benefits from the agreement for which the UPA government has paid a political price. Such an arrangement cannot be simply used to push inconvenient facts under the carpet.
In this context, it is important to see the anti-terror agreement as an element of a larger process aimed at working out reconciliation between India and Pakistan. Let us be clear about one thing — the resolution of the Kashmir issue and ending terrorist actions emanating from Pakistan are linked to a broader coming together of the two countries. In the coming months the two sides expect to keep up the thrust of dialogue and discussions. Immediately, they expect to move on the Siachen and Sir Creek issues. On both problems, there is already broad agreement on the outline of a settlement, and only small — though vital — sticking points remain. No doubt the way both countries see it is that settling these two smaller problems, over which there is already broad agreement, is a good way to gather the momentum for settling the bigger problems. If both sides are willing to expend the required political will, this can actually happen quickly, even within a year or so.