External affairs minister Sushma Swaraj’s announcement in Islamabad that the bilateral track between India and Pakistan will resume shortly has been hailed as a breakthrough, an ice-breaker, a diplomatic thaw that ends months of bitter acrimony and finger-pointing. However, the three-paragraph Indo-Pak joint statement is a mere road map, not a guarantee of peace. Even before the respective foreign secretaries set the ball rolling, it must be said that both Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif are taking a huge gamble that may or may not pay off; unless the goal is to keep talking in the face of every provocation, which is the West’s mantra for success and goes against the Modi government’s previously held tenet that “talks and terror cannot go hand in hand”.
Trusting Pakistan’s “deep state” to do the right thing requires a huge leap of faith. Hours before Ms Swaraj spoke at the Islamabad conference that was meant to heal the rift between Islamabad and Kabul, Pakistan-backed Taliban attacked Kandahar airport in Afghanistan. The resumed Indo-Pak dialogue, despite being re-christened the Comprehensive Bilateral Dialogue, fails to paper over the manifold issues that derailed talks in the past, and could do so again.
Mr Sharif’s personal assurances on expediting the Mumbai terror attack trial notwithstanding, how can India and Pakistan get past Mumbai when the investigation by Indian agencies clearly nails the role of “non-state actors” from Pakistan’s counter-intelligence wing, the ISI, in directing the Mumbai carnage? Thus far, Pakistan has denied all involvement in 26/11. Will Mumbai be given a quiet burial? Complicating matters further is the induction of Lt. Gen. Nasser Khan Janjua — a former Army general who was directly responsible for the suppression of the Baloch rebellion — as Pakistan’s national security adviser. Together with India’s NSA Ajit Doval, they have been entrusted with discussing “terrorism”.
Does this mean that the Pakistan Army, which blocked Mr Sharif’s India outreach, only gave the green signal for resumption of talks after the military’s role in decision-making was legitimised by appointing the general to the post? Surely the mandarins in the PMO also know that every time India now raises Pakistan-sponsored terror on our soil, the general will accuse India of backing Baloch “terrorists”. The Bangkok Process was a closed-door negotiation. The challenge before India and Pakistan now is to be able to sustain a dialogue — in the open — on the contentious issues that have divided them, be it the role of the Hurriyat, the status of J&K and other political hot potatoes like Sir Creek and Siachen. Especially now that India is finally talking to the uncompromising real power in Pakistan — the Army.