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Two windows open to new Islamabad

Washington, Feb. 15: When South Block’s joint secretary Arun Singh sits down on Monday for two days of talks in Islamabad with his Pakistani counterpart Jalil Abbas Jilani, he will repeatedly refer in his mind to copious reports he has received in the last six months from the interrogation of jihadis from 42 terrorist cells within the country which have been broken up by Indian counter-terrorism officials.

The interrogation of terrorists from these 42 cells has a common thread, which could change the nature of India-Pakistan engagement. “Hindustan” is still an enemy for these terrorists, but not “enemy no. 1”. That place has been vacated jointly for General Pervez Musharraf and for the US — for the latter, particularly after the invasion of Iraq.

A second factor which will guide Singh’s discussions in Islamabad is the near-unanimous inter-agency agreement within the Indian government that after three decades of futile lobbying in West Asia and a decade of similar efforts in Central Asia to forge a larger Islamic identity for itself, Pakistan is finally reconciled to its place as a South Asian state.

The Indian delegation is in Islamabad for talks, convinced that these two factors offer an unprecedented opening for stabilising relations with Pakistan.

Singh and the other members of the delegation will talk to Pakistan confident in the knowledge that for the first time in more than a decade, exfiltration — an intelligence term for the practice of luring Indians for religious-military training and return to India for subversion — by Pakistan has almost totally stopped.

New Delhi has the US military onslaught against the Taliban and Washington’s pressure on Musharraf to thank for that advantage. Jihadi cells broken up in the last one year have been made up largely of foreigners.

Sources in the Indian delegation to Monday’s talks said the flap over India’s cricket tour of Pakistan next month was calculated to send a message to Islamabad and not solely the result of the Union home ministry’s whims as made out in the media.

The sources said New Delhi was unhappy that Pakistan had observed “Kashmir Day” on February 5 with the same vigour and gusto as if there was no peace process under way with India.

Cables received in South Block from Indian ambassadors in countries with large Pakistani expatriate communities painted an unhelpful picture for the peace process.

In Washington, Sheikh Rashid Ahmed, Pakistan’s information minister — who was dropped as minister-in-waiting to Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee during last month’s Islamabad summit at India’s request — addressed a “Kashmir Day” function at the Pakistan embassy here and spoke at a rally in New York.

In London and the Gulf states, too, the scenario was similar. India believes that such displays are against the spirit of the Vajpayee-Musharraf meeting and they do not contribute to lowering the temperature in bilateral ties.

The cricket controversy, sources said, was a message to Islamabad just before Monday’s talks that bonhomie is not a one-way street and that the peace process is not irreversible.

Besides, intelligence estimates are that there are more than 2,000 Pakistan-trained terrorists already in India awaiting the call to jihad.

Cross-border infiltration is next to nil now because the passages are snow-bound and closed and Pakistani sincerity in this regard cannot be verified until the snow melts.

On the positive side is what external affairs minister Yashwant Sinha calls “the most comprehensive ceasefire” between India and Pakistan.

 

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