The long road to dialogue of the deaf

By Chandrahasan

 The hype over the ‘meeting’ between Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and the Pakistani President, Asif Ali Zardari, even though in a distant Russian city, is understandable. The Pakistanis and their patrons in the US was desperately trying for over six months to get India back on talking terms, so to say, with Pakistan after last November’s Mumbai attacks. A section of Indians, including the ‘candlewallahs’, too wanted India to talk to Pakistan, even if it is not clear how it will help matters.
Clearly, the basic purpose of any dialogue between two estranged parties is to restore some kind of cordiality and pave the way for eventual reconciliation with each other. If past history of the many forms of dialogues with Pakistan is any indication, improved relations between the two countries always prove to be a chimera. It is not going to be any different this time around.

 After being short changed innumerable times in the past, the Indian government is trying to sound cautious and impressing upon the people in the country that a ‘dialogue’ in its real sense between the two countries is still a long way off. The Indian and Pakistani leaders had only ‘met’ in Russia on the sidelines of an international conference. If they talk further it will be to focus on terror that Pakistan exports to India.

 The Pakistanis have a very different take in resumption of talks with India. Despite the unexpectedly sharp rebuke of Zardari by Manmohan Singh just after a formal handshake in Yekaterinburg in the Russian Urals, the Pakistanis are dwelling upon the fact that India had to climb down from its stated position by agreeing to ‘talk’ to Pakistan regardless of its caveat that it will not do so unless Pakistan showed its sincerity in punishing the culprits of the Mumbai attack.

 If the Yekaterinburggovernment wishes to respect the sentiments of the people, it must spell out clearly what will it be discussing with Pakistan in future talks and, more importantly, what does it expect to achieve from it. Any hope that resumption of talks will lead Pakistan to abandon its ‘bleed India’ policy looks to be pure wishful thinking. And only the ignoramus Indian will believe that the Pakistanis are going to become a friendly neighbour the moment India hands them over Kashmir.    
 With a not so hidden hand of the US behind the move, the Pakistanis have no doubt that a full-scale dialogue with India, by whatever name it is called, is on the cards in the near future. Some Indians also share this view because they feel it would be prudent for the government to create the impression (illusion?) that it was doing so out of its own volition rather than under constant US pressure.

 Pakistanis have already announced that the next round of talks between India and Pakistan will meet the fate of all the previous ones. Both before and after the frosty ‘meeting’ between the two leaders in Russia, the Pakistanis have been repeating their old Kashmir song. That is their way of declaring that they are not interested in good neighbourly relations with India unless the ‘Kashmir dispute’ is resolved—and Kashmir is handed over to them.

 There is another clear indication that things are not going to be different. Pakistan has refused to give any assurance that it will dismantle its terrorist network against India, come what may. That defiant tone has been made possible because of the ‘blank cheque’, literally and otherwise, it has received from the US and other Western donors after the limited operations it has launched against the ‘bad’ Taliban.

 The US never showed any genuine interest in the past in pressuring Pakistan to close its anti-India terror tap. It paid some lip sympathy to Indian complaints about it. But the fact is that for the US ‘terrorists’ are only those who are anti-US and anti-West. One of the names given to these terrorists is ‘bad’ Taliban.

 Pakistan is fighting the ‘bad’ Taliban—how serious, is still not clear—because they are spreading their activities into the heartland of Pakistan. If they had remained confined to the caves and mountains on Pakistan’s western borders to carry out attacks on the American and other Western forces inside Afghanistan they would not have been chased by the Pakistani army.

 These ‘bad’ Taliban have actually done some good to Pakistan. The US has pardoned Pakistan for its recent history of duplicity in fighting the ‘war on terror’. Instead, it has unhesitatingly rewarded Pakistan by showering enough dollars to take care of a major part of the expenses that Pakistan army incurs on purchasing modern weapons.

 The Americans know about that most of their money will not go where it is supposed to—spreading education and creating job opportunities in the medieval corners of Pakistan but prefer to be quiet. The ‘aid’ money will, as in the past, go into the pockets of the Pakistani establishment, including the army officers, and for purchasing weapons to be used against India.

 Pakistan claims that the backwardness of its tribal areas encourages the growth of the Taliban and similar militants. Since its own coffers are reluctantly spent on composite development of the entire nation, the Pakistanis have been passing their hat around Western capitals and, to their surprise, have found that philanthropy lives in these places even with all the woes of economic meltdown.

 One can bet that the tribal areas of Pakistan are not going to be transformed in the next few years even if by some miracle Islamabad spends money for the development of these regions. There is no danger of militancy and religious extremism disappearing from these Pakistani areas!

 That will make it even harder to believe that the terror network against India that Pakistan breeds officially will be pulled down in the near future, whether or not India and Pakistan resume their suspended ‘composite’ dialogue. The only outcome that India can expect after another round of talks with Pakistan is to hand over another diplomatic victory to Pakistan.