An agreement between India and Pakistan to set up a joint consultative mechanism "to identify and implement counter-terrorism initiatives and investigations" forms the basis of what appears to be a paradigm shift in New Delhi's approach towards Islamabad. Foreign Secretary-designate Shiv Shankar Menon on Saturday said it was this formulation that enabled New Delhi "to continue the dialogue process" despite acts of terrorism.
At a briefing after the conclusion of the 14th summit of the Non-Aligned Movement, Menon admitted that as of now all that India and Pakistan had was a joint statement stating the functions of the body. "Who will compose it and how it will be implemented is something we will see," he said.
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf had agreed to a joint mechanism when they met on the sidelines of the summit.
Menon, who is now high commissioner to Pakistan, rejected suggestions that India had softened its hard stance of not talking to Pakistan till the issue of cross-border terrorism was resolved in the wake of the July 11 blasts in Mumbai. He said whatever the past situation, India now had "an address to send our complaints" to on terrorist incidents. He said this should be seen as an addition to the methods the country had used in dealing with terrorism, not as their replacement.
In response to a question, Menon said that Pakistan, like India, was also a victim of terrorism, indicating the distance the two countries have travelled since the launch of the peace process with the January 6, 2004 joint statement in Islamabad. The new formulation accepts that terrorism in South Asia is a complex phenomenon, rather than a mere product of ISI machinations. It tries to see Pakistan as part of the solution and not the problem.
The 2004 agreement sought commitments from Pakistan not to allow its territory to be used for acts of terrorism against India; the new formulation seeks to work with Pakistan in combating terrorism.
As Menon said, "What we see are elements in Pakistan connected to terrorism in India. (And) this is one way of dealing with those elements." But, he emphasised, this in no way ruled out other "national" means of countering terrorism. In other words, there is no change in the country's stance towards terrorism.
Menon said the peace process was designed to create an atmosphere free of terrorism, to settle bilateral disputes and build India-Pakistan relations on a normal basis. He said while terrorism made it difficult to continue holding talks with Pakistan, the current effort was to do what could be done through talks. He said there was no guarantee that the effort would work but if it could cut down terrorism even in a small way "it is worth it".
Menon said the process of putting together the joint statement was much easier than before. "When we did the 2004 joint statement, we did not have much experience," he said, "but since then we have learnt to live and work with each other."