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JUST TACT

The decision by India and Pakistan to give visas to enable new deputy high commissioners to take up their positions in New Delhi and Islamabad does not signal a thaw in bilateral relations. Pragmatic diplomatic considerations, rather than a new beginning in ties between the two countries, are responsible for the latest move. While the new Indian deputy high commissioner in Islamabad, Mr T.C.A Raghavan, and his Pakistani counterpart, Mr Munawar Saeed Bhatty, will shortly take up their new assignments, the prospects for India-Pakistan relations still seem very gloomy. Indeed, even as the announcement of granting visas to the deputy high commissioners was made, New Delhi and Islamabad were trading charges related to the harassment of diplomats in their respective missions. India has strongly protested against the aggressive surveillance of its defence attaché, Brigadier R.K. Karwal, by Pakistani intelligence agencies, while Islamabad has accused New Delhi of doing the same to Pakistan’s defence attaché. As may be recalled, the two missions have a staff strength of barely 40 and that includes only a few officers. Before the December 13 attack on the Indian Parliament, each mission had more than 100 officials. The down-sizing of the two high commissions has been accompanied by a continuing dip in bilateral relations.

The address of the Indian president, Mr A.P.J Abdul Kalam, to the budget session of Parliament accused Pakistan of responding to New Delhi’s efforts to develop friendly and cooperative relations with hatred and violence and “actively supporting a sustained campaign of cross-border terrorism”. The president also once again reiterated that India would be willing to resume a bilateral dialogue with Pakistan only when it stops sponsoring terrorism across the border. So the decision to allow the deputy high commissioners to take up their appointments is rooted in other considerations. The move to declare the earlier deputy high commissioners persona non grata invited condemnation from the international community. There was pressure from the United States of America, in particular, to sustain diplomatic relations at least at the deputy high commissioner level. Moreover, unless India or indeed Pakistan was willing to break off diplomatic relations completely, there was really no point in letting junior officers head the two missions. In any case, both sides probably recognized that even while there is no immediate prospect of an improvement in bilateral ties, it is worthwhile keeping the door half open. The next few months should reveal more clearly whether the decision to grant visas has more than purely short-term tactical significance.

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