by: Bibhu Prasad Routray
What exactly has moved forward in the Indo-Pakistan relations in recent months? Even the ardent optimists would find it difficult to provide any evidence. On the contrary, the ‘difficulty’ that Pakistan continues to feign in taking pro-India measures are clear evidences that this ‘remarkable turnaround’ is little more than a exceptionally high dose of histrionics, comparable to a whiff of cool breeze that soothes a terminal patient, but is highly insufficient in providing a cure.
Some castles of hopes, at least on the Indian side, had been built on the home secretary-level talks between the two countries in Islamabad on May 24 and 25. The last line of the 215-word press release from the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) read, “A revised visa agreement is expected to be signed. This revised agreement inter-alia introduces the concept of group tourist visa, visa on arrival and a separate category of business visas.”
Although the joint statement issued at the end of the meeting referred to the “finalisation of the visa agreement” which both sides “agreed to sign at an early date”, the reality was, only a truncated agreement — a visa-free territory of 400 m radius at the Attari-Wagah border and an extended list of importable items from India — was the end result of the two-day meeting. The 400-m visa-free radius would provide some logistical comfort to the officials and truckers; and most of the items in the extended import list are already in the list of importable items through Wagah.
Inability to seek “internal approvals” remains the bane of the civilian government in Pakistan, or so it claims. India had gone prepared for the visa agreement. Pakistan side, however, maintained “the agreement will be signed” once the “internal approvals” are in place. On May 27, Lashkar-e-Toiba (LeT) founder Hafiz Mohammad Saeed, holding a news conference in Karachi, announced that the Difa-e-Pakistan Council (DPC), a coalition of 40 religious groups, would not allow Pakistan to become an “Indian market”. The DPC plans to hold a series of rallies against India and the US across the country over the coming months.
Regular Pakistan watchers would not miss the striking similarity in Pakistan’s stand over issues like the liberalised visa regime and the grant of Most Favoured Nation (MFN) status to India. In both the cases, there is an ‘agreement in principle’ in the Pakistan cabinet, and the issues were duly highlighted as examples of the warming up of the bilateral relations, and yet the Pakistani side was unable to move forward. The MFN sanction which was supposed to have been granted to India last year, is now scheduled for 2013. And curiously, just like the liberalised visa regime agreement, the MFN issue too has faced stiff opposition from Saeed.
The joint statement of May 25 also referred to an “expeditious execution” of “pending red notices”. The Indian list of 50 fugitives includes Saeed, Maulana Masood Azhar, Dawood Ibrahim and Tiger Memon. In the coming months, the CBI and Pakistan’s Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) would discuss the issue of red notices. However, even as the Indian home secretary spoke of letting Pakistan keep the head money of Rs 56 crore on Saeed and hand him over, Pakistan interior minister Rahman Malik advised India to stop levelling allegations against his country.
Recently, American Congressman Dana Rohrabacher pooh-poohed the civilian surge in Pakistan saying that President Asif Ali Zardari “is either in league with the military or under their domination”. Rohrabacher’s well-known eccentricity notwithstanding, one can hardly disagree with such an assessment. Starting with the killing of Osama bin Laden in May 2011, this civilian government has wilfully carried the Pakistani military on its shoulders. Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani is selectively disrespectful of the court orders on prosecuting Zardari on corruption cases, and highly respectful of the role of the judiciary when acting on Saeed and Azhar.
Optimists would make a case for patience. Regular engagement, they say, would eventually break the old walls and create new opportunities. While it is certainly not easy to put behind the decades-long enmity, it is also undeniable that progress needs to be judged from the incremental steps that takes care of the Indian concerns. And these are the missing links in the relationship.
A lot many analysts believe that the thaw in Indo-Pakistan relations may have been a result of pressures from Washington. However, the opposite could also be true. India, by attempting to normalise its relations with its western neighbour, could be adding to the latter’s posture of obstinacy against the US/NATO in Afghanistan.
(The opinions expressed in this column are the author’s own. Routray, a former deputy director in the National Security Council Secretariat, is an independent security analyst based in Singapore)
* The article is sent to KanglaOnline by Bibhu Prasad Routray