Saturday, June 20, 2009

June 17, 2009

'Pakistan will project it as a diplomatic victory'

I saw several smiling faces in Washington as news came from far away
Yekaterinburg (till 1991 Sverdlovsk, named after the Bolshevik leader,
Yakov Sverdlov) the city over which Gary Powers' U2 spy plane was shot
down, that India had agreed to resume the dialogue with Pakistan.

Several of them, think tankers, had advocated resumption of the
dialogue between India and Pakistan as an important ingredient in
President Obama's [ Images ] Afpak policy.

It did not matter if India insisted only on discussing terrorism or if
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh [ Images ] reprimanded President Zardari
in front of the cameras. Resumption of dialogue it was for the US
State Department and Pakistan, a gain after the dialogue had derailed
following the Mumbai [ Images ] attacks. They did not want any credit
for the new development, but they clearly relished it.

"How can Pakistan accept the fact that the dialogue was only about
terrorism against India?" I asked one of them.

"That is not a problem. Pakistan will claim that the dialogue is on
Kashmir because terrorism is an issue related to Kashmir. They can
advance the argument that they are simply supporting the liberation
struggle in Kashmir. As far as they are concerned, the resumption of
dialogue lets them off the hook as far as Mumbai is concerned.
Pakistan will project it as a diplomatic victory," he said.

That is precisely what Pakistan Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi
did in his statement to the press:

'The two foreign secretaries will meet at mutually convenient dates to
discuss the steps taken on either side to deal with extremism and
terrorism. From those discussions, the political leadership will
re-engage at Sharm-el-Sheikh (the Egypt [ Images ] town where the next
Non Aligned Summit will be held).'

He went on to talk about India and Pakistan being victims of terrorism
and about the joint anti-terror mechanism that was set up in Havana,
ironically, at another Non Aligned Summit venue. He did not give in
even on the question of the release of the terrorist, who masterminded
the Mumbai attacks.

'We could not interfere in the lawful release of Jamaaut Dawa chief
Hafeez Mohammed Saeed. The provincial government is contemplating
appealing the court decision,' was his comment.

In other words, the highly sophisticated construction that Foreign
Secretary Menon placed on the decision to talk about terrorism without
resuming the dialogue was deliberately drowned out by Pakistan and the
United States. Under Secretary William Burns must have reported
'Mission accomplished!' within days after his recent visit.

He had openly advocated resumption of the dialogue and Pakistan too
had echoed it. It is also a moment of minor victory for Richard
Holbrooke. After all, disengaging Pakistan from the Indian border and
committing its might to combat Taliban [ Images ] forces is part of
his strategy and it is important for him to relax the stand-off
between India and Pakistan. He would like to put Mumbai behind him and
move ahead.

The beginning of the dialogue, the terms, the scope and objectives of
which were left to India and Pakistan to decide on, was also necessary
for the United States to push India and Pakistan gently to move
towards the formula reported to have been identified in the back
channel talks.

An old Kashmir hand, Ambassador [ Images ] Howard Schaffer, has just
published a book entitled Limits of Influence, tracing the history of
US efforts to solve the Kashmir issue. Although the title reflects
American exasperation over the limits of its influence on the issue,
Schaffer says in the introduction to the book that the time has, in
fact, come for a more active role for the US in Kashmir.

He argues that the improved relations between India and the United
States and the progress made in back channel talks make it the right
moment to push for a solution. No wonder William Burns pulled out the
old formula of a solution acceptable to the Kashmiri people.

We had heard this before, as Foreign Secretary Menon notes, but part
of the reason for improvement in India-US relations was the fact that
President Bush and his men did not use the K word. He would not even
buy a cashmere shawl for his wife for fear of irritating his Indian
friends, according to Washington sources.

Indian diplomats have made sure in the Yekaterinburg deal that all of
India's concerns were taken care of. But Pakistan and the United
States will claim a minor victory while India highlights the small
print with luminous markers.

The test, of course, is whether Pakistan will do more to punish the
guilty men of Mumbai before the peace process really commences.
Pakistan is in no position to take decisions of substance for some
more time to come and there is no reason why we should give comfort to
anyone that, as on previous occasions, India will engage in the peace
process, regardless of the heinous terrorist attacks against India.

T P Sreenivasan, a former Indian diplomat, is presently a Visiting
Fellow at the Brookings Institution, Washington, DC.

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