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The art of promising
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A rather interesting thing happens ever so often. First, there’s a terror strike. A bomb blast, an incursion, anything to grab the nation’s attention. The media gets flustered. And then there’s that quintessential round of Indo-Pak meet. A few pleasantries. A couple of handshakes. Photos. And a promising joint statement. A joint statement which includes impressive sounding verbiage like ‘with a view to finding a peaceful solution by narrowing divergences and building convergences’. But does any of it mean anything?

After the 26/11 terror strikes, almost all bilateral talks between India and Pakistan had stopped. Now, steps are underway to restart a composite dialogue that was derailed by the 2008 Mumbai attacks. A step towards the same is the on-going ministerial-level meet between the two nuclear-armed arch-rivals.

A meet between the two Foreign Ministers, India’s S M Krishna and Pakistan’s newly appointed Hina Rabbani Khar on Wednesday ended, like always, rather promisingly on paper. A number of issues were discussed. Promises were made. A future plan of action was charted. And reading the joint statement issued, one got the general feeling that both the Honourable Ministers were mighty pleases with the progress made.

Alas, progress on paper does not always result in action taken. There’s that funny period between successive rounds of talks where the complete lack of any sort of follow-up boggles the mind. Maybe, it is realized that the quagmire which is the diplomacy of the two countries is just too difficult to cross in a paper dinghy.

While the red tape and diplomatic hubris is no less on the Indian side, Pakistan’s side of things presents a fascinating story. In Pakistan, the almighty security establishment also needs to be taken into consideration. For decades, Pakistan’s foreign policy has been controlled by the security establishment and it reflects an obvious disconnect between national security considerations and diplomatic compulsions. Often, the security establishments have gone to war on the ground, with the Pakistani foreign office maintaining that the soldiers fighting were not Pakistani. Such is the disconnect that former Pakistani Prime Minister and current Opposition leader Nawaz Sharif has stated that the foreign policy ought to be shaped by the Parliament, and not by generals.

With such a blatant disconnect between the promised and the delivered, it is easy to be cynical about what might actually be achieved after the present round of talks. But then, it should not be forgotten that some issues do get resolved through these talks. The Samjhauta Express being re-started, the cross-border bus service, greater trade opportunities between the two countries, all came about after diplomatic talks. In the same vein, the present round, with its promises of increased truck movement and cross-LoC travel, might not be a complete failure. But it is the failure to address the hard issues like border security and counter-insurgencies measures which really tinkers. Whether they will be addressed satisfactorily henceforth will have to be seen.

First published as a lead story on SIMC Wire.

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