India-Pakistan: Reducing the lack of trust
RECENT statements of Pakistani and Indian higher-ranking officials show an obvious shift in the approach of both the countries. They have finally realized the challenge lies in reducing the lack of trust between the two countries. Resumption of the Composite Dialogue is the only way forward to fix the nerve-racking relations shattered by the 2008 Mumbai attacks that New Delhi blamed on Pakistani militants.
In a news conference Prime Minister Manmohan said a major diplomatic effort was underway to improve ties between India and Pakistan, and he was hopeful the talks would succeed. He also reiterated India's willingness to discuss "all outstanding issues" as long as Pakistani territory is not used for attacks against India.
Prime Minister Manmohan's exceptional statement is not less than a major leap forward as diplomatic circles encircling Kashmir snarl as well in the statement about 'all outstanding issues'. Without solving the Kashmir issue, it looks impossible to have any improvement in other spheres. For Pakistan, the core dispute is over Kashmir, which both countries claim in full but rule in part. Issues including water, Indian intrusion in Baluchistan and use of Afghanistan soil against Pakistan have also surfaced in the recent times. In addition, for India, the main issue in its relations with Pakistan is security, which is threatened by attacks allegedly backed by Pakistani militants.
Indian External Affairs Minister S.M. Krishna will visit Islamabad on July 15 for talks with his counterpart Shah Mehmood Qureshi. The Indian minister's visit would be important in cutting the lack of trust. It would be the best opportunity for Pakistan to raise all outstanding issues with Mr. Krishna. It is a positive sign that India is ready to discuss the Kashmir issue as well. Pakistan must get benefit from the situation. Likewise, if Pakistan has solid proof of Indian involvement in Baluchistan, it should hand over those evidences to Mr Krishna in his upcoming visit to Islamabad. Without solid proof, mere allegations and blame game cannot work well anyway.
At this critical juncture, extending hands for talks is a breakthrough needed to repair the broken ties. These bold statements reflect a 'change' in Indian overture. Pakistan already had asked to dispel the existing mistrust and stressed to build trust on solid foundations so people of the two countries can live in peace. On this point, Pakistani foreign ministry spokesperson Abdul Basit said, "To this end, Pakistan looks forward to a sustained and meaningful engagement with India with a view to free our relations from all disputes and conflicts."
Relations between Pakistan and India remains cracked from 1947, when both the countries gained independence, to this day. In all these years, peace remained the biggest loser and the stakes the winners. Now both are nuclear powers and cannot afford any war because of risks that it could turn into a nuclear war. What is needed is to bolster ties between both the countries for progress and prosperity of their people.
How would improved ties be turned into a great benefit for the two neighbours? Firstly, both countries are spending huge amounts on defence, which would be reduced in case of better ties. Secondly, trade would increase manifold and people-to-people contacts would be improved. This would be valuable both economically and culturally. There is also an urgent need to work towards a peaceful solution of the Kashmir dispute according to the wishes of the people of the area.
The most important thing will be "solid foundations" on which ties would be based as it is well said that if the foundations were solid, a building would be rock-solid. The trust should not be damaged by any mishaps like the Mumbai attacks. For this, both the nations must not have any ill intent to use their soil against the other. As it is witnessed many times when both the countries aim to strengthen ties, some anti-peace elements have always tried to disrupt this process. It is not limited to a single country; both nations have extremist elements within their boundaries and both are facing home-grown terrorism in the form of Maoism and Talibanism. Terrorism threat needs to be addressed jointly for the greater safety of the South Asian region.
In the Indo-Pak context, confidence building measures- can only come about when concrete moves are made in the most contentious areas. Trust is the foundation of any long-lasting relationship. It demands setting up peace on such solid foundations, that no one would dare to damage it. For this, leniency has to be shown from both the sides. Elimination of trust deficit is important for the peace and prosperity of the two people. The earlier it is done, the better.
The author is a columnist and researcher.