Prem Shankar Jha
From the moment the Pakistan Foreign minister, Shah Mahmud Qureshi, agreed to take a second round of questions from the Pakistani journalists at the joint press conference on Thursday last week, it was apparent that the much awaited and carefully choreographed meeting between the two foreign ministers had exploded in their faces. The anger felt in India is therefore understandable, but it has obscured the question that everyone should have immediately asked: what went wrong?
With the benefit of hindsight it is apparent that, starting from the meeting of the two prime ministers at Thimpu, both sides had indeed prepared meticulously for the talks. What seems to have been absent from their preparations was an understanding of the other side's needs and constraints and of the demands that would emerge from them. Neither had therefore fashioned constructive responses that would take these into account.
The first exchange that revealed the gap between the two delegations was Qureshi's retort to Krishna's mention of Hafiz Sayeed, that the Indian Home Secretary's statement to the Indian Express, that the ISI and Sayeed had actually guided and monitored the terrorist attack on Mumbai, was 'uncalled for'. Qureshi did not say that the statement itself was wrong, only that it should not have been made in a public forum on the very eve of the Islamabad meeting. It is difficult to disagree with him.
The news itself was not new. It had come out of Ajmal Qasab's confession at his trial and been corroborated by David Headley Coleman's admissions to India's National Intelligence Agency. Both transcripts had been handed over to the Pakistan government in a succession of dossiers. But by making it public just before the talks India brought both the Pakistan army and the large right wing of the Pakistan media into the picture. Last Thursday both were seething with rage.
Qureshi was therefore left with only two choices: he had either to brazenly rebut the accusation, or get something else out of the conference that would allow him to claim a measure of success. He tried to do the latter.
According to reports in the media, while on their way to lunch Qureshi suggested to Krishna that they should make a statement in the press conference (then scheduled for 2.00 pm), that the two governments would take up the Kashmir and Siachen issues in their next meeting. Had Krishna understood the pressure Qureshi was under, he could have met him half-way with ease. All he had to say was that India would gladly pick up the threads of the Manmohan Singh-Musharraf dialogue whenever Pakistan was prepared to. But the moment he heard the K word, Krishna dug his heels in. This left Qureshi with nothing to show for the conference.
Despite this, the talks did not break down. Qureshi accepted Krishna's observation that Kashmir had an elected government and chief minister. He also referred to Indian administered Kashmir in his press statement as Jammu and Kashmir and not "Indian-occupied Kashmir". Krishna, on his part, also tacitly accepted that the Home Secretary's statement had been uncalled for. These were remarkable acts of courage. It is ironic that they are precisely the ones for which both foreign ministers are being pilloried in their own countries.
But if Delhi did not understand Islamabad's constraints, Islamabad did not understand Delhi's either. India has been under attack from terrorists based in Pakistan for more than a decade. Pakistan has resolutely insisted that it is unable to control them and is itself their victim. Then come two pieces of detailed, first-hand, information - from the confessions of Qasab and David Coleman - according to which the Pakistan army was behind the Mumbai attack, and the ISI is not only sheltering the Lashkar and elements of the Taliban, but helping them to forge links with Al Qaeda.
Delhi could not make any commitments, let alone time-bound ones, till Pakistan was at least prepared to admit that its army, or sections of its army, had continued to use terrorism as an instrument of policy abroad. But that is something that no elected government in Pakistan has so far had the courage, or indeed the power, to do.
Thursday, July 22, 2010
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The News on Sunday Special Report: India Pakistan prisoners more editions
We probably didn't need to do this Special Report. Newspaper stories don't matter when it comes to Indians in Pakistani jails and vice versa. In fact, 'vice versa' sums it up. We do to them what they do to us.
Except when the two countries decide to begin talking, yet again! This time a little before the foreign secretary level talks, some Pakistani prisoners were released by India (and vice versa must have happened) and some more were release....read more
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