New Delhi: "Trust, but
verify." Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's watchword on re-engaging
Pakistan found traction in 2011 and saw the troubled post-26/11
ties turning a corner, with the leaders of both countries
resolving to write "a new chapter" in bilateral relations.
If 2010 was a year of failed expectations, with the Thimphu spirit
dissolving in thin air after talks between the foreign ministers
collapsed in Islamabad in July last year, 2011 picked up some of
the broken threads to weave together a new narrative of hope and
an implicit subtext that trust placed in the revived peace process
will be borne out by verification.
In February, just when many thought that the Thimphu spirit of
reducing trust deficit was dead, the foreign secretaries of India
and Pakistan engaged in some quiet diplomacy in the Bhutanese
capital on the sidelines of a SAARC meeting and decided to resume
the stalled peace process.
In March, Pakistan Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani accepted
Manmohan Singh's invitation and travelled to Mohali for the
India-Pakistan World Cup semifinal. There were no formal talks but
the chemistry was evident.
Three months later, Pakistan's newly-appointed Foreign Minister
Hina Rabbani Khar came to New Delhi for talks with her Indian
counterpart S.M. Krishna in July. The talks culminated in a host
of cross-Kashmir confidence building measures in travel and trade.
The foreign minister-level talks sent all the right messages, with
Pakistan's first woman foreign minister scrupulously avoiding the
grandstanding of her predecessor that had not only wrecked the
talks last year but left a bitter aftertaste.
Building upon this spirit of mutual accommodation, Manmohan Singh
and Gilani met in Maldives Nov 10 on the margins of the SAARC
After talks for over an hour, the two leaders, who have come to
develop a personal rapport, vowed to write "a new chapter" in the
bilateral relationship that was stressed after the Mumbai mayhem
unleashed by Pakistani terrorists. The two sides resolved to
pursue a "creative, constructive and result-oriented dialogue".
"We have decided we will resume this dialogue with the expectation
that all issues which have bedevilled (our) relations will be
discussed with all the sincerity that our two countries can bring
to bear," Manmohan Singh said.
Gilani, on his part, promised that Islamabad was doing all it
could to fast-track the trial of seven Pakistanis in custody for
involvement in the November 2008 terror attack on Mumbai that left
166 people dead.
The summit meeting set the stage for another round of the revived
dialogue process, with meetings between the home and water
resource secretaries expected to be held soon.
Pakistan's decision to grant Most Favoured Nation (MFN) status to
India, days before the two leaders met in the Maldives, also bodes
well for the relationship and has opened a new way to deepen peace
stakes through greater mutual trade and investment.
This new spirit was evident when the Pakistani military quickly
freed an Indian military helicopter that strayed into Pakistani
airspace by mistake in October.
India made sure that this goodwill endured and voted for
Pakistan's inclusion as a non-permanent member of the Security
Council council in a narrowly contested election.
However, even as there is a renewed start to put ties on a
post-26/11 trajectory, the ghosts of the Mumbai terror are not
going to fade away soon.
Pakistan's Interior Minister Rehman Malik has called for enforcing
the death sentence awarded to Ajmal Kasab, the lone terrorist
convicted by an Indian court for the Mumbai attack. Malik had
initially denied that Kasab was a Pakistani.
A team from Pakistan is expected to visit India soon to record
statements of judicial officials connected to the Mumbai terror
"It's been a year of hope and trust-building. But Pakistan clearly
needs to take concrete action against the Mumbai terrorists to
keep the dialogue process going," Lalit Mansingh, a former foreign
secretary, told IANS.
Justice for the 26/11 victims remains elusive, but Manmohan Singh
appeared inclined to give Pakistan another chance by seeking
recourse to his oft-repeated axiom: "Trust but verify."
The course of the peace process in 2012 will depend much on how
much of this trust is borne out by Islamabad taking concrete
action against the perpetrators of the Mumbai carnage.
Returning from the meeting in the Maldives, Manmohan Singh said he
left "Prime Minister Gilani in no doubt that if public opinion in
India is not satisfied that justice is being done to those
responsible to the barbarous attack, it won't be possible to move
forward with the peace process".
As the year ends, cross-border trade and CBMs, therefore, present
windows of opportunity, but Islamabad's action on justice for
26/11 will remain central to the revived peace process in the time
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