Pakistan: Don't make talks conditional to 26/11 probe

Updated on Aug 31, 2012 12:05 AM IST

The trust deficit is not much there at the government level. There is a disconnect in the media, the public perception as given out by the media. Salman Bashir, Pakistan high commissioner to India, speaks with Jayanth Jacob.

Hindustan Times | By, New Delhi

The trust deficit is not much there at the government level. There is a disconnect in the media, the public perception as given out by the media. Salman Bashir, Pakistan high commissioner to India, speaks with HT. Excertps:

When India and Pakistan had resumed the talks after the Mumbai attack, the main objective of the dialogue process was reducing the trust deficit between the two countries. How far the two countries have succeeded in addressing this issue?

See there is a certain disconnect, which is perceptional. The trust deficit is not much there at the government level. There is a disconnect in the media, the public perception as given out by the media.

I have respect for media and I believe that media has tremendous influence and a very important role to play in promoting peace.

But let me try to give you the structure to believe that why the trust deficit is reduced. What we are the objectives. What does Pakistan feel suiting its national interests. What does India feel suiting its national interests. What should be the end result? The objectives we seek are the same. A generic way, it is I believe they are stability, peace, development, bringing the fruits of development to ordinary people. Transforming our cities towns and village… These are the shared aspirations of the peoples of the two countries.

The problems or challenges are also shared challenges. The climate change, the change in climate patters, irrational weather patterns-man-made issues. There is the issue of terrorism and violence. This is a common issue to the global community.

In US you have what is called homeland security, ensuring safety to individuals and properties. We also have similar ministries in our respective countries and objective is the same. How can we promote homeland security individually and at the collective level?

Lets admit there are fault-lines in the media. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh is keen on improving and normalizing India, Pakistan relationship. So we learn is President Asif Ali Zardari. Somewhere we get the feeling that the establishments in both sides are not up to their leaders' vision?
I am not saying media is at fault. It's a question of evolution. How we ourselves develop the ability to see things in a different paradigm. The need is to have as paradigm shift. There is a need to have a new paradigm in public domain.

Pakistan foreign minister Hina Rabbani Khar mentioned (on the sidelines of the non-aligned submit) about showing maturity in the relationship. In short hand, the terms we use in diplomacy-the talking points -- for the leaders to discuss. How do you formulate these talking points? Those talking points need to be evolved and they should have that degree of maturity. Otherwise, with the mindset of the previous era, we will be left behind. This region has a lot of catching up to do somewhere in terms of socio economic growth we are lagging behind. We have the right economic fundamentals.

Look at the demography, the young population and the huge market this region constitutes. The world looks at this part of the world this way. They don't make a distinction between India, Pakistan or Nepal. Look at what has happened in south east Asia-the ASEAN model. They have been able to develop so fast. They have got a security-forum as well. There is a new thought in the global strategic and security plane-the new security architecture. I think this is important. When world talks of a new security paradigm, then how would we figure in this in respect of our respective national interests?

We are seeing great convulsions in West Asia and North Africa... that I am trying to say is in the south Asian context and in the larger contexts therefore there are compelling reasons as to why we should intensify our dialogue process. There are compelling reasons that we should reach out to each other to enable us to understand each other's perspective.

At the same time, there are domestic compulsions for both countries. For India, bringing the perpetrators of 26/11 Mumbai attack to justice is of paramount interest. How do you see the Indian position on this issue? Are you are cooperating with New Delhi on the issue? Do you think India is raising the pitch too high on this issue?
The simple way of not trying to do something is to make everything conditional. We can say settle Jammu and Kashmir and then we can talk. You can say a certain 26/11. I think it's a rhetorical position.

Rhetorical in the public domain. Reality is quiet contrary. The reality is that there has been mutual cooperation on bring those responsible for 26/11. Pakistan has cooperated and has taken steps. As it happened here, the matter went through the legal processes on our end, too.

You mentioned rhetoric in public domain. Does that mean you get a different impression when you talk to Indian officials behind closed doors?
The Indian officials say the same thing -- the speedy justice. We don't disagree. But the things are in the hands of judiciary and there are certain procedures that we have to abide by. We are not here seeking extra judicial means. We are civilized societies. There are anxiety and anger in India about the 26/11 processes in Pakistan. Let's not forget this, too.

Plus 40,000 innocent people lost their lives in terrorist attacks in Pakistan, which is many times multiplied by those who died in the unfortunate incident of Mumbai. Our mosques, market places, and even ISI offices have been attacked by suicide bombers. We have far more serious problems and challenges to content with. We are responding to them. Those who are caught are put on trail. We are trying to face the situation in a manner which is legal not only the standards of respective national laws also by international standards.

Why did you agree to send a judicial commission to India, when you knew that they wouldn't get to cross-examine? Two countries have the same evidence Act and you knew such a commission would be an exercise in futility?
We kept on telling this to India, about the end-result if the judicial commission was not allowed to cross examine. The members of the commission pointed this out and even Indian legal experts said the same thing-this will be an exercise in futility. But we agreed to send the commission. It was an act of deference to the demands of the India government. We agreed to send a team at your terms, knowing well that this would happen at the end. (A Pakistan anti-terror court rejected the work of the commission that didn't have the mandate to cross-examine). You can look at it both ways. It was a more than a gesture of Pakistan's willingness to accept the Indian point of view. You can see it as a positive and also negative.

You have asked to send the re-send the judicial commission? Did you hear anything from Indian side on this?
We have formally asked for sending the judicial commission again. We are yet to get an answer from India on this.

There is an invitation for Indian prime minister to visit Pakistan. Indian side seems to be insisting on a big take-away from the visit? What could it be, in your opinion?
How did you actually and precisely say, this is a big take away?

May be some concrete steps on 26/11 attack case?
I think there are already.. We have an in principle understanding. We have reached an understanding through the dialogue process that our respective agencies meet and discuss all matters of this nature, counter -- terrorism to counter drugs etc…

The FIA from our side (Federal Investigative Agency) and National Investigative Agency (NIA) would meet and it was agreed at the last home secretary-level meeting. What will be a bigger takeaway than this? We have agreed to work together. Rahman Malik renewed his invitation (that had given to former home minister P Chidambaram) to the new home minister to visit Pakistan at the earliest. He offered to come at short notice to come to discuss these issues. I don't see why we fret so much in the media about this big take-away. The way forward is dialogue.

You think Prime Minister Singh will visit Pakistan anytime soon?
We will be very happy if he visits Pakistan. We respect r his statesman-like vision. He is a pioneer in many ways for a new approach towards Pakistan. He was gracious enough to accept our invitation. We would welcome an early visit.

President Zardari is keen on an early resolution of Siachen. He did take it up with Prime Minister with a sense of great urgency when he came here last?
I have been saying this all this while. Every issue is doable. If we were to look at our archives in our respective offices, we will understand way back in 1989 it was ready for resolution. It got postponed in the last moment. There could be different position. We believed that actually this is actually to be resolved eventually. Sooner the better, it means demilitarisation. It's hurting the ecology. It has detrimental impact on ecology. It can add to the building of trust and confidence building.

We hear of this step-by step approach in the talks. But unless you address the core issue, how will you restore the trust and normalize the ties?
I agree with you. No question that we could get anywhere unless we resolve these issues. Resolving these issues are important for restoring complete trust and confidence, Jammu and Kashmir as far as we see it, pertains to the lives and the rights and the people of J&K.

So that sense it is more than a territorial issue. Sir Creek, is one segment that needs to be clearly demarcated on the map. Pakistan's position on the issue is clear. Siachen as I said, totally for the reasons of unnecessary presences of military, it also has ecological impact. There are reasons as to why we need to address these issues.

Being realistic, I know this is not going to happen just now. We have to seriously address these issues. The step-by-step process, that you were saying, perhaps it has helped. But we need to do more. There are reasonable ways to address the so called outstanding issues.

There are considerable progresses on trade front?
This is one track that has seen considerable movement. We are in the process of moving towards full trade normalization. India has taken an important decision on moving from positive to negative list. We are also taking many similar steps. There is also talk of trade in petroleum products; there are new integrated check-posts. The broader framework for trade is being made in a desirable manner. I think that in itself won not be enough.

Governments are trying to give a level playing field to the private sector as well. There have been a number of trade delegations from Pakistan to India of late. There are difficulties on the ground like visa issues. But these can be handled.

Will the visa regime be signed during the forthcoming talks between the India-Pakistan foreign ministers? (India, Pakistan foreign ministers will meet from September 7 to 9).
I personally hope it will be. Lets see. I am not discounting that possibility at all. I have mentioned that our interior minister has invited your home minister to visit Pakistan. The visa has been an interior ministry issue. Interior minister Rahman Malik is very much interested that it should be done at a political level.

Still, why is that one get the impression India-Pakistan dialogue is prone to accident?
Prone to accidents? Yes. That has been the experience in the past. But I don't see why that should be the case in the future. I think it was Mani Shankar Aiyar (Congress leader and former union minister) who first suggested that India-Pakistan dialogue being uninterruptible. We agree to that. In a series of meetings, the top leadership of the two countries agreed that the dialogue is the only way forward. We should use the existing mechanisms and communicate with each other.

Why don't we pick up the telephone and talk to each other rather than going to the media. We share a long border. There will be something or the other that may happen. In a building you have to have fire alarms. India and Pakistan have to build systems to ensure that communications continue. There is broad range of issues on which we can communicate. We need to manage the issues the way the countries in the world do. We don't have to find anything new.

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