India-Pakistan Foreign Minister-Level Talks Qureshi Spoils A Great Opportunity
The July 16 talks between Indian External Affairs Minister SM Krishna and Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi in Islamabad went from a few hours to many more hours. The press waited for more than six hours to be addressed by the two Foreign Ministers. The importance of the bilateral meeting needs no emphasis.
Usually, when such meetings are extended and the two interlocutors go to the highest levels of the host country, it could mean two things. Either the agreements are so close that the blessings of the top level become necessary to seal a deal. Or, there is such a divergence at the working level that the top level has to intervene to calm things down to ensure differences do not explode into public spats. In this case it appears the latter happened.
It was stated at the joint press conference that the exchanges were “frank”. This is, of course, better than “free and frank” which denotes exchange of accusations. In this case, both sides pressed their respective positions firmly. Both agreed to disagree.
The press conference started with Mr Qureshi making a longish statement followed by Mr Krishna. Both the Foreign Ministers attempted to project that the talks went with some mutual warmth, with Mr Krishna saying that he was satisfied with the discussions and wished Pakistan and its people well.
But the tenor of the press conference suddenly deteriorated when a reporter of the daily Jung (an ISI rank holder?) raised issues like Indian Human Rights abuse in Indian Kashmir, Indian fomentation of unrest in Baluchistan (Pakistan) and other Indian terrorist attacks in Pakistan. In an Indian television talk show on the talk, Pakistani guest Tariq Azim even accused India of training and sending Afghan suicide bombers to Pakistan. This, of course, is a side story, but reveals a mind set.
As the press conference deteriorated, Mr Qureshi also accused Indian involvement in Baluchistan uprising and that evidence was given to India. Mr Krishna rebutted this strongly emphasising Pakistan had not given a “shred of evidence”, even circumstantial, to India on this issue.
Mr Qureshi equated JUD Chief and LeT mentor Hafiz Sayeed’s anti-India hate speeches to Indian Home Secretary GK Pillai’s statement to the media that the ISI was involved in 26/11 Mumbai terror attack. The two are not comparable. Mr Pillai spoke on confessions of David Hadley, Pakistan born US citizen and LeT operative who was involved in 26/11, who not only indicted Hafiz Sayeed but the direct involvement of the ISI at the highest level in the “26/11” incident. Worse was to come from Mr Qureshi. He added that during Home Minister P Chidambaram’s June visit to Pakistan he had admitted that Baloch leader Brahamdagh Bugti Indian passport would be cancelled, if he was a Pakistani citizen. This was immediately refuted by Bugti’s spokesman to the BBC Urdu Service. But from where did Mr Qureshi fish out this lie?
Mr Krishna let these pass, apparently because the press conference was becoming a mud-slinging episode directed by the ISI and the Pakistani establishment. The old Pakistani mode had not changed.
But it was interesting to note that frontline liberal Pakistani newspapers like the Dawn refrained from asking questions. These newspapers have asked the Pakistani authorities several times to provide proof of Indian intelligence involvement in Pakistan, but Pakistan’s Interior Minister Rehman Malik’s position has held that proof will be given in due time. What time? And when? That fact, therefore, is that Pakistan has no evidence to even remotely prove Indian involvement. At one time Mr Rehman Malik had said they had apprehended three Indian agents, but nothing was heard after this.
It was expected that Pakistan would not agree to address these issues including infiltration of terrorists in Kashmir. In fact, the Indian side should not even expect such an admission. But Qureshi stepped up when he said that it was India’s responsibility to counter the infiltrators admitting terrorists were infiltrating across the LOC from Pakistan.
For Pakistan the problem is David Hadley’s confession to the American FBI, and subsequently to the Indian National Intelligence Agency (NIA) about the direct involvement of the ISI, Pakistani Navy, Hafiz Sayeed and the LeT in the Mumbai attack, and plans to expand terrorism in India. Indian Home Minister P Chidambaram presented these evidence to his Pakistani interlocutors in June, and Mr Krishna followed up with supplementary evidence.
Mr Qureshi also asked for Indian Magistrates and officials who recorded the statements of Ajmal Kasab, the Mumbai carnage accused, to depose in the Pakistani court trying the case. This is nothing but a dilatory tactic.
The Americans have also shown Pakistan evidence and depositions of Hadley on the Mumbai episode. But the Americans are going to a point and no more because they need Pakistan’s assistance to eradicate threats from the Al Qaida and the Afghan Taliban targetting US interests.
Pakistan’s main support comes from China. The official China Radio International (CRI), in a broadcast on July10, said that the root cause of terrorism was the Kashmir issue, and terrorists will not go unless the Kashmir issue was resolved. The CRI broadcast set a tripartite solution Pakistan, India and Kashmiris talk. This was an open Chinese support to Pakistan and the Kashmiri separatists.
During Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari’s fifth visit as President to China starting July 06, the India-Pak relations especially in the Kashmir context was discussed. There is noticeable increase in China’s pro-Pakistan position on the Kashmir issue, especially for their strategic interest in PoK, and the old Pak-India strategy.
China’s actions as an “unseen actor” on India-Pak relations is very important for the security and stability of the South Asian region. It is not in Beijing’s strategic calculations for a India-Pak bonhomie. Pakistan is far more dependent on China as a savior than on the US. The US, in Pakistan’s perception, is temporary, but China is an “all weather friend and ally” not only against India but also US dominance.
The India-Pakistan dialogue must take into account the China factor. The Foreign Minister-level talks are not even “footsies” let alone exchange of vows. But other options are limited. Eventually, it will depend upon Pakistan’s public uproar that can change the mindset in Islamabad and the GHQ. We have miles to go, but should not detach.
As Pakistani Members of Parliament and PPP leader Ms Sherry Reheman rued, a great opportunity lost. Unfortunately, the foreign ministers’ dialogue created more distrust than build trust.
By Bhaskar Roy