India-Pakistan ties: More than good looks needed (Comment)

July 30th, 2011 - 11:58 am ICT by IANS  

Every new initiative to improve India-Pakistan relations generates a faint stirring of hope. If anything, it underlines the deep desire for peace between the people of the two countries. If the expectations are higher this time, the reason cannot but be what has been described as the glam quotient of the photogenic new Pakistani foreign minister, Hina Rabbani Khar.

That the Indian media had been bowled over by her was evident from headlines like “young Hina bewitches India” or “Pakistan casts Hina spell on India”. There was a similar reaction across the border. “HRK conquers India” gushed the newspaper The Nation. Khar’s appointment itself was intended to present a “soft image” of the country, as stated by President Asif Ali Zardari.

The compulsion to change the image from that of a country in the grip of bearded, Kalashnikov-wielding, brainwashed killers to an alumnus of Massachusetts University as its foreign minister is understandable. It is also in the fitness of things that her first major foreign trip should have been to India for, unless there is an improvement in mutual ties, there will be no end to the depredations of the jehadis.

Aware of the favourable impression she has created in India, Khar said, “I think I drew attention not because of my personal profile but because of the country I came from, Pakistan.”

In all probability a diplomatic first, the Indian external affairs minister, S.M. Krishna, paid a compliment to her “personal profile” by saying that “half of India, which is your age, looks towards you not just for your good looks but also dynamism and the fresh approach that you have brought”.

Time will show the reality of the new approach, but words are currently the only sign of a changed scenario. Following up on Indian foreign secretary Nirupama Rao’s perception of a changed attitude in Pakistan towards terror, Khar said in New Delhi that she had brought the “message of a mindset change in Pakistan”.

If the belief that her appointment has the blessings of the Pakistan Army is true, the importance of her observation is undeniable if only because the last ministerial meeting between Krishna and the then Pakistani foreign minister, Shah Mehmood Qureshi, in Islamabad had a disastrous ending apparently because of the army’s intervention.

It has to be remembered, however, that Khar and Pakistan foreign secretary Salman Bashir’s visits did not have a propitious prelude since they were preceded by the Mumbai blasts and were accompanied by a heavy infiltration of militants into Kashmir. Besides, Khar’s meetings with the Kashmiri separatists both in Islamabad and in New Delhi did not please India.

Her observation in Islamabad after a meeting with Yasin Malik that the Kashmir problem had to be solved in accordance with the wishes of the Kashmiri people and the UN resolutions indicated a traditional rather than a changed mindset.

It is evident, therefore, that the road to peace will be bumpy. It is perhaps a realization of this ground reality which made the two sides to focus on relatively non-controversial issues like augmenting trade and facilitating cross-border traffic in Kashmir during the New Delhi talks.

Any hint of a forward movement will be available not so much at the forthcoming meetings among experts on confidence-building measures on conventional and nuclear issues as at the next ministerial level talks in Islamabad early next year. It is then that some indication will be available on how close, or distant, the two sides are on questions like the punishment of the 26/11 masterminds in Pakistan and the demolition of the terror camps.

Unless there is some satisfaction in India at least on the second point, no amount of rhetoric about mindsets will help. However, if there is some truth in Nirupama Rao’s perception and Khar’s observations, it should not be long before some definite evidence of the changed scenario is available.

One indication will be a decline in terrorist outrages, whether by the Pakistani “non-state” actors or groups like the Indian Mujahideen, which are believed to be egged on by the Lashkar-e-Taiba and other jehadi outfits based in Pakistan. Another sign will be a fall in the number of terrorist attacks within Pakistan, which faces terrorism “on a daily basis, on an hourly basis”, as Khar said.

But if the outrages continue and the Indian security forces have to keep on fighting the infiltrators sneaking into Kashmir, the logjam in India-Pakistan relations will show no sign of easing.

For any improvement to take place, it is not the “soft image” projected by Pakistan’s new foreign minister which will be of any help, but its determination, and especially that of its army and Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), to eliminate the terrorist groups which they have been nurturing for years as a second line of offence and defence against India.

(30-07-2011 - Amulya Ganguli is a political analyst. He can be reached at aganguli@mail.com)

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