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Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Is there a thaw developing in India-Pakistan relationship ?

It appears so. The Composite Dialogue (CD) has resumed, deeper normalizing measures such as opening of bank branches in each other's country are on the anvil, multiple-entry longer-duration and multiple-city visas are in the works, more items for trade are being discussed, Track-II meetings are going on at a feverish pace etc.

However, appearances can be deceptive and are always so when it involves Pakistan. I am not a pessimist but I am extremely sceptical when it comes to Pakistan. Things are no doubt happening in the India-Pakistan front lately. India agreed last year to not only resume the Composite Dialogue but also conceded the long-standing Pakistani demand to even make the CD uninterrupted and uninterruptible. The 'uninterrupted & uninterruptible' tag (a common refrain of the 'secular fundamentalist', Mani Shankar Aiyyar) allows Pakistan to mount terrorist attacks on India even on the scale of 26/11 (or even bigger) but expect India to continue talking to it as though nothing really happened. Many Indian analysts have [wrongly] argued the case for such dialogues, terming the 'freeze' as having outlived its utility leading therefore to 'diminishing returns'. I plainly never saw any returns at all in the three years of 'freeze' for one to now talk of 'diminishing returns'. For those who would argue that 'freeze' did not bring us any dividends and therefore a new approach was needed, I have two counter arguments. The 'freeze' was neither strongly enforced nor given sufficient time to bite Pakistan. Besides, we have had talks for several years earlier but we did not realize that Pakistan was only biding its time and preparing for massive terrorist assaults on India in Kabul (twice) and in Mumbai. A cursory look at the extraordinary deception of a trial in the 26/11 case at Adiala anti-terrorism court would prove that Pakistani government, its law-enforcing agencies, its armed forces and its intelligence agencies continue to hoodwink India while continuing to provide support to the same jihadi leaders and organizations. {See The 26/11 Case - How Pakistan and its Judiciary Help the Terrorists - Part V, for example or the earlier parts}

Anyway, more positive things happened. Articles appearing in newspapers speak [incorrectly] of Pakistan having already granted the Most Favoured Nation (MFN) to India {See, for example Pakistan Grants India MFN Trade Status - Reuters, Pakistan Grants India 'MFN' status - CS Monitor, Pakistan Grants India MFN status - The Guardian}. Both the World Trade Organization (WTO) and SAFTA (South Asia Free Trade Agreement) under the aegis of SAARC (South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation) demand that Pakistan designate India as an MFN, something that Pakistan has steadfastly refused to do for over 16 years now. Pakistan has been bleeding severely because of its intransigence in this matter but that was of no consequence because Pakistan could not have any trucks (pun intended) with its mortal 'kafir enemy', except to import goats or onions or cotton whenever their scarcity became an existential threat {rather than India, for a change}. Pakistan is now seriously discussing with India of importing petroleum products from India, the prices of which have skyrocketed in Pakistan even as its traditional desert-friends and ummah-brothers have refused to extend any concession to Pakistan anymore {except for Kuwait which is still offering diesel at discounted prices}. Pakistan has in double-quick time given a green signal for import of petroleum products through trucks and has asked India to lay a pipeline to its borders as well. It is quite obvious that when Pakistan badly needs things from India, it is able to clear such proposals rapidly, which in itself is being cited by misguided Indians as an indication of Pakistani willingness to foster a friendlier relationship with India. Another fancied argument of the so-called Peace Lobby in India (anybody who opposes this lobby must be communal, a war-monger and part of the despicable Hindutva brigade) is that Pakistan released an Indian Army helicopter which recently strayed into Pakistani territory by mistake and landed there. Of course, Pakistan released the helicopter and the pilots but not before laying its hands on the codes and GPS coordinates of the Indian positions in Siachen. India would, no doubt, have done the same thing had the case been the reverse, but then the Indian Peace Lobby should not use the release as a proof of Pakistan's friendliness. For Pakistan, it served no purpose holding on to a small helicopter and its crew when it was a clear case of navigational error and especially after Pakistan had laid its hand on vital information. The incident would have snow-balled into a diplomatic row and the situation that it was in, Pakistan did not want it. The Indian Peace Lobby is thus attributing a virtue to a Pakistani necessity.

It is relevant to remember at this stage a few things. A farcical drama is being enacted in the Adiala court over the 26/11 case for the last three years. Very little progress has been made in the case, the voice samples which Pakistan promised to India at one point of time have not been given citing Pakistani laws {we knew even at that time that such a promise was simply to bait to a reluctant India to send its Home Minister P.Chidambaram to Islamabad to thaw the 'freeze'), Pakistan has made very little independent investigation into the conspiracy angle involving JuD/LeT leaders and the Pakistani Army, Navy & the ISI, Pakistan has displayed no urgency or real intention in prosecuting even those who are currently held in jail there. The explosive information revealed by David Coleman Headley alias Daoud Gilani under oath in an American court is being conveniently ignored by Pakistan as it has the potential to unravel the nexus between the Pakistani army (PA) and the jihadi tanzeems. The Judicial Commission drama went on for a year and finally petred out last week when the Commission that came here rubbished their government-agreed process {the members of the commission were more intent on visiting Haji Ali at Mumbai}, and the Pakistani government itself is taking refuge under the guise of 'slow turning of the judicial wheels in the Subcontinent'. As is their usual practice, the Pakistanis point their finger at the whole subcontinent whenever a negative reference to their specific country is made.

Contrary to popular belief, widely created by Reuters {the news headlines cited earlier}, Pakistan has not granted MFN status to India. It has simply moved away from a small positive-list trading practice to a large negative-list trading practice. Even this came about with a huge drama. First, it was announced by their trade minister that MFN has been granted. Then, there was a huge hue-and-cry and the Government of Pakistan (GoP) clarified that only a committee had been setup to develop a process towards moving to MFN. It was announced that MFN would come about by April, 2012, a deadline that has been shifted now to end-2012. In the meanwhile, the Diffa-e-Pakistan Council (DPC), a conglomerate of jihadi tanzeems, retired Islamist military Generals and various other ranks and closet jihadi Islamists like Imran Khan have taken a strong exception to granting MFN status to India. Various Pakistani ministries objected to various things resulting in a large negative-list for trading. Cowed down by their threat, Pakistan now says that even the move to the negative-list would be phased and gradual. This itself will not be complete until end-2012 and therefore the deadline for the MFN status now becomes a question mark. This treacherous behaviour of Pakistan has been the rule rather than the exception.

Within the last 18 months, Pakistan has achieved several things for itself from a more-than-willing UPA-II government. It has resumed the Composite Dialogue, it has conceded very little in return to India, it has ensured that the India-Pakistan border would be relatively peaceful even as it focusses its attention on the emerging Afganistan denouement (so that it will re-establish its strategic depth in Afghanistan after the US withdrawal, for an eventual attack on India later}, it ensured the Indian withdrawal of objections to the accordance of the GSP+ status to Pakistan by the European Union (EU), got support from India for a comfortable entry into the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) as a rotating member-country, it has effectively blunted the Indian pursuance of the 26/11 case etc. It is also Pakistan's calculation that the US may positively consider a US-Pakistan nuclear deal (similar to the India-US deal) once Pakistan establishes a facade of friendly relationship with its arch-enemy, India. After Abbottabad and the PNS Mehran affairs and a host of other issues (such as the case of Syed Saleem Shehzad or the Congressional enquiry into Balochistan or the Memogate scandal or Adm. Mike Mullen's very scathing parting gift), the PA is on the back foot and it would rather tactically retreat at this stage than do anything foolishly. Let us remember that Gen. Kayani was completely opposed to Pakistan granting MFN status to India before the major incidents listed above overwhelmed him. It was during his Directorship of the ISI that Mumbai 26/11 was planned.

Many analysts incorrectly propagate the idea that there is a vociferous and influential constituency within Pakistan for normalizing relations with India. They are misled by a despondent and desperate group of Pakistanis contributing some articles here and there in the English language media of Pakistan, a media which is simply *not* the opinion-maker in that country. That distinction goes to the Urdu press which is overwhelmingly hostile and inimical to India. There are no signs of easing there and one should not expect that too as the society moves to the hardest-line Deobandi/Wahhabi/Salafi/Takfiri brand of Islam. Not for nothing that GoP has appointed as the new Director General (DG) of the notorious ISI, a person who was intimately associated with the 26/11 and Kabul attacks as the operational head. Gilani could have appointed anybody else, if he really wanted to reform the ISI, but chose to appoint instead Lt. Gen. Zaheerul Islam.

An important issue that is generally overlooked is the interlinking of the Afghanistan situation and India's internal and external security. Since the 80s, and increasingly so since the 90s, certain aspects of India's security have become linked with Afghanistan. Pakistan is playing a hide-and-seek game with the Americans and the Afghans and is hoping to install the pro-Pakistani Taliban regime yet again there. Pakistan's game plan with India is to induce a sense of complacency by appearing to be friendly to it and muting its objections to a Taliban take-over of that nation. The Pakistani society, and consequently its armed forces, are getting increasingly Talibanized and the Taliban-ruled Afghanistan next door to a nuclear and Islamist Pakistan would be like fire and cotton coming together. The emerging thaw has this important aspect to it as well.

Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.

Added Later: For those of us who were wondering why the Pakistani Judicial Commission arrived in Mumbai last week, it now transpires that it was a bait to arrange a meeting between Gilani and Man Mohan Singh on the sidelines of the Nuclear Security Conference at Seoul next week. This is a usual Pakistani ruse used not only against India but also against the US, and successfully too. Gen. Musharraf used to regularly catch a number three in Al Qaeda just before every Washington visit. The reason for the bait is that Indian Prime Ministers usually concede a lot to Pakistan in one-on-one meetings with their Pakistani counterparts and Pakistan knows that quite well. We will wait and watch what more Mr. Man Mohan Singh would concede at Seoul. Anyway, there is no change to Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose, even from the Indian side.

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