Pakistan's Charm Offensive Works
Pakistan's foreign ministers do not have to be young, attractive, fashionable or of the weaker sex to attract attention in India. Even at multilateral conferences in India, filled with fashionable young women, the television cameras stay focused on Pakistan's representatives, regardless of their sex appeal. The interest becomes ecstatic if a visiting Pakistan Minister happens to have the attributes of Bollywood stars. Rightly did Seema Goswami call Foreign Minister Hira Rabbani Khar "Pakistan's new weapon of mass distraction." More sensational, but poorer in taste was the headline, "Pakistani bomb lands in New Delhi." India is still reeling under the imagined value of her pearl and diamond necklaces, Cavalli sunglasses and Birkin bag.
No doubt, Pakistan was on a charm offensive this time, demonstrated not just by the charm of the brand new Foreign Minister on her first ever foray into diplomacy, but also by the Foreign Secretary having a new and friendly mask this time, in contrast with his previous postures. Consequently, the admonition administered by our Foreign Secretary for the meeting with the Hurriyat appeared harsh in the media. But more significantly, India seems to have been charmed into conceding ground on many of its established positions.
The fundamentals of the Pakistan position remained intact through the hype about "new engagement" and "new beginning." HRK, as the Pak Foreign Minister was affectionately called, began with an assertion that India should not dominate South Asia. Then she walked into a meeting with Kashmiri separatists even before meeting her host. She also made sure that the right phrases about outstanding issues were included in the Joint Statement.
India's main agenda, the punishment of the perpetrators of 26/11 was quickly sidelined when HRK dished out the wisdom that the judicial process took time and much groundwork had to be done. If it is still in the stage of groundwork, she has no responsibility to deliver on this issue. India naturally insisted on speeding up the judicial process, but without making it conditional for advancing the peace process.
The Joint Statement appears to be a wish list of Pakistan.For instance, two sides expressed satisfaction on the holding of meetings on the issues of Counter-Terrorism (including progress on Mumbai trial) and Narcotics Control; Humanitarian issues; Commercial & Economic cooperation; Wullar Barrage/Tulbul Navigation Project; Sir Creek; Siachen; Peace & Security including CBMs; Jammu & Kashmir; and promotion of friendly exchanges.
Though the composite dialogue is not mentioned, the assertion of the dialogue process is with a view to resolving peacefully all outstanding issues through constructive and result oriented engagement, and to establish friendly, cooperative and good neighbourly relations between the two counties.
The trust issue is dealt with simply by agreeing to build a relationship of trust and mutually beneficial cooperation in conformity with the determination of the people of both countries to see an end to terrorism and violence and to realise their aspirations for peace and development.
Terrorism is no more a threat from Pakistan to India, but terrorism poses a continuing threat to peace and security and the two have reiterated the firm and undiluted commitment to fight and eliminate this scourge in all its forms and manifestations. Both sides agreed on the need to strengthen cooperation on counter-terrorism including among relevant departments as well as agencies to bring those responsible for terror crimes to justice.
Although we know that Pakistan is building up its nuclear arsenal at break neck speed and holding up the negotiations on a fissile material treaty, India had no problem in promoting "Confidence Building Measures, between India and Pakistan and to agree to convene separate meetings of the Expert Groups on Nuclear and Conventional CBMs, in Islamabad in September 2011."
The press went to town on the absence of the K word in the discussions but the Joint Statement loudly proclaims that the two sides held discussions on the issue of Jammu and Kashmir and agreed to the need for continued discussions, in a purposeful and forward looking manner, with a view to finding a peaceful solution by narrowing divergences and building convergences. Our position that the only matter to be discusses is terrorism in Kashmir has been totally forgotten in the formulation. Mani Shankar Aiyer's formula of "uninterrupted and uninterruptable" dialogue has been embraced bu HRK, but it, mercifully, does not find a place in the statement. How can there be uninterruptable dialogue with Pakistan? Even if there is another 26/11, will we continue the dialogue process?
The provisions made for border trade are elaborate and specific, glossing over the problems of the past. On trade itself, the tone is unduly optimistic, considering the hesitation Pakistan has always had in normalising trade relations with India. By reaffirming the commitment to the Indus Water Treaty, we seem to have sacrificed one of our bargaining points on the water issue.The resumption of the Joint Commission also masks the problems in bilateral relations.The schedule of meetings envisaged gives a false impression of progress.
The extent and depth of the agreements reached at the talks has given Pakistan reason to convince the world that the bilateral relations are back to normal despite lack of satisfaction over 26/11 and continuation of terrorism as its state policy. HRK has established her credentials. The US will be particularly impressed. Has India been swept off its feet by the charm offensive of Pakistan? Or is there a change of heart in Pakistan to prompt concessions by India? Only time will tell.