The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Sanitation channel before diplomacy

New Delhi, March 14: The discussion is on sanitation, not Kashmir. Pakistan has invited India to yet another regional meet, to be held in Islamabad next week.

So far India has not decided whether or not it should go. If it does, this will be the first time in more than a year that Delhi will send a team to Islamabad.

The workshop is to discuss setting up a regional network on “sanitary and phyto-sanitary measures and quality control system”. It will be held on March 18 and 19.

Beginning this year, India has refused to participate in any meeting, regional or otherwise, held in Pakistan. Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee called off his participation in the Saarc summit in Islamabad on the plea that Pakistan had not taken any steps to normalise trade relations with India.

A few weeks later, India announced its decision to stay away from the South Asian Federation (Saf) games.

Last month, a meeting of the Saarc communication secretaries was called off when India refused to participate in it.

Pakistan, which is keen to resume dialogue with India, sees these gestures as “extremely negative and not conducive” to creating an atmosphere for starting talks and normalising ties.

“We have to keep our channels of communication open,” Munawar Bhatti, the charge d’affaires of the Pakistan High Commission, said. Admitting that relations had hit an “all-time low”, Bhatti argued that the atmosphere can only be cleared once the stalled dialogue resumes.

But India is not showing any signs of returning to the talks table. Efforts made by Delhi to normalise relations with Islamabad failed miserably two years ago when the Agra summit between Vajpayee and Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf failed to achieve a breakthrough.

In the subsequent period, relations nosedived further. A series of terrorist attacks in India, including one on Parliament — which Delhi claims have been instigated by Islamabad — has fed the hostility. Heavy deployment of troops along the border last year had set alarm bells ringing.

India claims Pakistan has not been sincere in stopping cross-border terrorism and wants to exert pressure by refusing to resume dialogue with Islamabad. The Musharraf regime, which has been talking of its willingness to resume the dialogue, claims it has taken enough steps to deal with Delhi’s security concerns.

If India refuses to send a team for the forthcoming workshop in Islamabad, it will mean that Delhi is in no mood to give any allowance to Pakistan.

It is possible that India wants to see whether or not terrorist activities in Jammu and Kashmir go up when the snow melts in the coming weeks. If the level of infiltration across the border is kept low, then perhaps India might show signs of easing the pressure on Pakistan. If not, it will continue to push Islamabad into a corner and pressure the international community to ensure that Musharraf seriously tackles cross-border terrorism.

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