Terrorism can impair Indo-Pak talks: Study

While a radical change is "less likely" from the Indian side, it "cannot be totally excluded".

india Updated: May 14, 2006 13:47 IST

A major terror attack on India or political changes in Pakistan that give a decisive role to anti-India elements can reverse the current dialogue between the two neighbours, a US study has warned.

While a radical change is "less likely" from the Indian side, it "cannot be totally excluded".

A return of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) to power could lead to "a much tougher stance" towards Pakistan, the Daily Times quoted the study as saying.

The slim volume ("India-Pakistan Negotiations: Is Past Still Prologue?") is authored by Dennis Kux, a former US diplomat at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars. It has been released by the US Institute of Peace.

"If the two countries can maintain their dialogue, problems will gradually be resolved, differences will diminish, reciprocated confidence will grow and mutual distrust will decline.

"But if the dialogue stalls - and it could well do that - then the history of India-Pakistan negotiating failures will once more repeat itself and the past will have turned out to be the future's prologue," the study says.

Looking at the positive side, it says that an intensified movement of people between the two countries could increase public pressures in favour of further reductions in travel restrictions.

Growing bilateral trade and commerce could create important "lobbies" advocating normalisation - something that has been absent in the past, it says.

The scholar says that "greater flexibility" in Pakistani attitudes towards a settlement of the Kashmir issue would make it easier to make progress towards an eventual settlement.

"If there is an agreement on internal autonomy in Indian Kashmir, it could have a profound effect on the situations and reduce the pressures on Pakistan to support Kashmiri self-determination," Kux notes.

On the other hand, a Pakistani decision to ignore the earlier commitment on curbing the cross-border movement of jehadi elements could "severely damage" prospects of normalisation.

Terrorist incidents that India views as Pakistan-linked could at least stall and possibly sink the "composite dialogue".

Although the current process leaves little scope for external involvement, Kux speculates that China could become a "more significant factor", given its intimate ties with Pakistan and its improving relations with India.

Invited to comment on Kux's study at a discussion held in Washington, former Indian foreign secretary Salman Haider, currently at the US Institute of Peace as a senior scholar, pointed out that the preparations made for the Agra summit of 2001 were insufficient and that President Pervez Musharraf tried to "leap across" the barriers.

Haider said bureaucracies that have been the negotiators in the past - and are even today - are always resistant to change because it is easier to continue with things as they are.

He added that the logic of bilateralism was now stronger than ever in both countries and a third party can only play a role if there is bilateral agreement. He rejected the possibility of any role for China because of "unfinished business" between Beijing and New Delhi.

Haider said a generational change was taking place in India and Pakistan, with the peoples of the two countries acting as a motivating factor for the two governments.

"While there is no escape from history, we need not become its prisoners," he said.

First Published: May 14, 2006 13:39 IST