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SIGNS OF A THAW

It is too early to declare that there is a new thaw in India’s relations with Pakistan. There are, however, clearly some signs of a positive movement and there was evidence of this on the sidelines of the meeting of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation council of ministers at Kathmandu. While there is little possibility of a formal meeting between the foreign ministers of India and Pakistan, Mr Yashwant Sinha and Mr Inam-ul-Haq greeted each other, shook hands and exchanged pleasantries. This may seem like routine diplomatic civility, but in the case of India and Pakistan it does reflect a little more. Diplomats from New Delhi and Islamabad often take extraordinary measures to ensure that their leaders avoid each other and establish no contact in multilateral settings if a formal dialogue has, for some reason, been ruled out. It is clear therefore, that while a formal dialogue may still not be on the cards, there seems to be an attempt being made by both sides to ease tensions and to help create an atmosphere in which talks can take place. For a variety of reasons, and South Block must realize this, a no-dialogue policy is unsustainable. The international community, especially the United States of America, is continuing to exercise considerable pressure on New Delhi and Islamabad to resume a dialogue. One of the reasons for the continuing high-level diplomatic traffic from the West to the Indian subcontinent is to ensure that there is no escalation of tension, and that the two countries are persuaded to begin talks. The visit of the American deputy secretary of state, Mr Richard Armitage, is most certainly part of the same policy. Moreover, there are costs to bear in the near breakdown of relations that has occurred between India and Pakistan.

Travel between the two countries has become extremely difficult, and the absence of high commissioners is posing practical problems for both countries. In sum, there is a case to be made for normalization of relations. But normalization should not mean easing pressure on Pakistan as far as its sponsorship of terrorism is concerned. The dialogue can wait until after the elections in Jammu and Kashmir are over. The surest way by which Pakistan can demonstrate good faith is by ensuring that there is no escalation of violence in the state before and during the polls. What is also imperative is that a dialogue, whenever it is resumed, must not be at the summit level but be undertaken in the first instance by diplomats. No less important, the dialogue must have a clear agenda and must focus on the whole range of problems between the two countries, rather than just Kashmir, as is being demanded by Pakistan. These are the lessons that both sides can learn from the failure of the Agra summit.

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