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India-Pakistan ties: A year of building trust

Monday December 19, 2011 05:34:53 PM, Manish Chand, IANS

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 summit.

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 attack.

"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 to come.

(Manish Chand can be contacted at






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