The Mohali Initiative

“To lead is to choose,” said Piere Mendes-France, one of the far-sighted statesmen France threw up after the second World War. It seems Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has made his choice: He has opted for making another attempt at seeking peace with Pakistan.

How far Prime Minister’s Mohali initiative to have talks with Pakistan Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani will take the two countries along the peace track remains to be seen, but statesmen who pursue a vision that is in the larger interest of the people can ultimately succeed and prove the usual skeptics wrong.

The Mohali initiative itself does not wash away a 64-year history of wars, tensions, distrust and failed efforts at  normalization of relations, but Dr Manmohan Singh apparently thought that neither country loses anything if the two Prime Ministers met on the neutral territory of cricket which always arouses nicer emotions among the people of the two countries.

While the “balle-balle” mood had filled the air on the stands, inside in one of the ante-chambers of the pavilion the two Prime Ministers met one-to-one for over an hour before dinner to discuss how best to resume the Indo-Pak dialogue that had been rudely interrupted by grisly events of 26/11.

The details of what the two Prime Ministers discussed have yet to filter down, but they shared the thought that the welfare of the two people lay in the resumption of serious attempts to sort out the differences that have kept the two nations apart all these years.

Why not take sporting ties beyond cricket was one of the minor points  the two leaders discussed. Turning distrust into mutual  trust, it was thought, would help in resolving the bigger issues that have been awaiting resolution. Also, nibbling at the disputes with positive mindsets was considered important.

Dr Manmohan Singh is reported to have referred to the developments in West Asia which are bound to have impact on both India and Pakistan, mainly because a large number of the people from the two countries were working in West Asia, and their jobs were  at stake.

He is also believed to have pointed out that the West Asian developments could lead to rise in oil prices and this will have serious impact on the economy of the two countries.

That the destiny of the people on both sides of its divide was tied together in the emerging world was the common theme that marked the spirit of the conversation aimed at the resumption of the dialogue.

The Vice-President of India and the Speaker –- Mr Hamid Ansari  and Ms Meira Kumar – have  already written to their counterparts to send a parliamentary delegation to India. This will be reciprocated by our MPs’ visit to Pakistan.  The idea is to involve all political streams into the effort and widen the constituency of peace.

Trade talks are in the offing, some relaxation of visa restriction is  on the card as discussed by the Home Secretaries who are going to have a hotline now to prevent minor issues from going out of hand.

Foreign Secretaries of the two countries who have been meeting at Thimpu will now get greater political backing to carry on with their effort so that the resolution of the sticky issues like Siachen, Sir Creek, terrorism and Kashmir and Wullar barrage can be sorted out.

Bonhomie and some Urdu couplets always prevail when Indians and Pakistanis sit  together for dinner. It was left to an MQM leader who began reciting Urdu couplets only to evoke equally warm sentiments as a side dish.

That Mrs Sonia Gandhi was also at Mohali was meant to convey to the visitors and the people at home that the Congress Party stood by the Prime Minister in his bid to resume the dialogue.

While the people in India have responded enthusiastically, the BJP and experts, as they often do, have questioned the wisdom of the Mohali initiative. Their doubts are on familiar lines: that Pakistan has not lived up to its word given back in January 2004 that it will take steps to stop terrorism; that it is not certain that the Pakistan Army is on board in  the attempt to resume dialogue with India.

It is true that India’s policy on Pakistan is ultimately decided by the Pakistan Army top brass, but it can be presumed that Mr Gilani could not have flown to Manali without having a word with General Pervez Ashfaq Kiyani,

Unlike Gen Pervez Musharaf, General Kiyani certainly keeps his own counsel. He is also known to have shared his thought that he always tended to look at his eastern borders for threat to Pakistan’s security. All these factors do not, however, obliterate the need for a dialogue.

Mrs Indira Gandhi had offered Treaty of Peace and Friendship to General Zia-ul-Haq in 1981. L K Advani should ask Jaswant Singh how far  Atal Bihari Vajpayee went in his talks with General Musharraf, despite Kargil.

Dr Manmohan Singh’s talks with President  Musharraf  were also proceeding well and they were converging on new formulations on Kashmir, like making border irrelevant without changing the boundaries. The dialogue got interrupted because of President Musharraf got into trouble after the lawyers’ agitation leading to his exit from power.

Not to resume the interrupted dialogue after a gap of two years since 26/11 is not a tenable proposition. The skeptics do not have an alternative plan  either.

The Vajpayee government had mobilized troops all along the Pakistan border  after December 13 attack on Parliament and kept them in  combat readiness for two years, but later, did not know what to do with them.

The world has not been able to abolish wars, and inter-nation conflicts. But several wars and conflicts have been prevented by leaders with a vision. They did make history of a different kind in their own quiet ways.

In our life time when the world was caught in wars, hot and cold, the nations have had serious talks and kept direct channels of communications open with the adversary.

The Americans and the Vietnamese went on meeting at Hotel Majestic in Paris while their forces were fighting in Vietnam. The Chinese and the American held endless rounds of discussions in Warsaw. The cold war was most  intense when the US and the Soviet Union went on talking to each other in Geneva for hundreds of rounds.

The plea that earlier attempts at peace with Pakistan have failed is not a valid argument against making fresh efforts to mend relations with it. The argument that talking to Pakistan is a sign of weakness on the part of Indian leadership is equally facile. Only strong and confidant nations can extend a hand of friendship without feeling embarrassed. And ask those coming from Pakistan how envious they feel of India’s strength.  That India and Pakistan possess nuclear weapons has made such arguments irrelevant and specious.

There is no choice for the two countries, but to go on talking to each other until they are able to settle for durable peace, irrespective of the issues involved. Patience is the name of the game.

– The Tribune, April 5th, 2011

India and China agree to step up mutual engagement

The recent visits of the Chinese Prime Minister Wen Jiabao to India and Pakistan during the same week went off on predictable lines.

In India the visit has left behind somewhat better atmospherics leading habitual optimists to hope for better days ahead for the Sino-Indian relations; while  experienced analysts tend to believe that another opportunity to sort out the vital issues that have marred the relations between the two Asian neighbour over the years has been lost.

Both optimists and the analysts with bitter memories of the past, however, are in agreement that it is better to keep the Chinese engaged and New Delhi should avail of any opportunity to make it clear that India is ready to discuss any issue across the table but not at the cost of its national interest.

As it transpires, it is Wen Jiabao  who told Dr Manmohan Singh at Hanoi a few weeks ago that he would like to visit India for talks and see whether some prickly irritants in the relations could be removed so that the two nations could have more comfortable relations with each other. There was enough space for them in this wide world.

Few had thought that big issues like the boundary dispute and India’s serious reservations on relations between China and Pakistan would be resolved during the visit. No one believes that the boundary disputes, the worst of the divisive bilateral issues, can be pulled out from the back burner it has been consigned to by both countries. May be the status quo on the boundary questions suits both countries as neither is prepared for a give-and-take approach a settlement requires.

India has a parliament resolution suggesting that the Indian territory under Chinese occupation has got to be vacated. The Chinese too could be having problems within the present Communist party leadership which might be thinking it has no authority to part with any territory. Hu Jintao and Wen Jiabao are going out of office in less than two years and no one knows how the succession issue will ultimately pan out towards the end of their tenure.

How relations between China and Pakistan have changed the security environment in South Asia figured at the talks.  But judging from the statements the Chinese Prime Minister has made in Islamabad the relations between India’s  northern and western neighbours seem to have further deepened, leaving intact for India a two-front situation to contend with.

Pakistan has in fact become China’s client state and not just an ”all weather friend” as the Chinese like to describe it.  Over the years Beijing has been liberally passing on nuclear and missile technology and  military hardware to Pakistan and is now underwriting its failing economy.

China, as a part of larger scheme is also using Pakistan for gaining access to the Arabian sea, mineral resources in Afghanistan and greater influence in Central Asia.

The Sino-Pakistan ties add another dimension to its stand on Jammu and Kashmir.  Lately there is vagueness about its  earlier position that it is a bilateral dispute to be sorted out by India and Pakistan themselves.

China’s denial of visa to our Northern Commander and stapling of visas for the  J and K residents amounted to questioning India’s sovereignty over J & K. India had to make it clear at a meeting at Wuhan that China ought to be sensitive about India’s concerns on J and K, just as India had been sensitive about Beijing’s concern over Tibet.

Wen Jiabao might have thought of the visa question as just an “irritant” but for India it is too serious a matter to be brushed aside. Some rethinking may be taking place in Beijing on stapled visas.

Differences on political issues notwithstanding, the Wen Jiabao-Manmohan Singh talks focussed on economic relations. The two sides  chose to step up annual  trade to $ 100 billion  in five years. China has agreed to find ways to buy more goods from India so that the balance of trade does not remain hugely against India.

The prospects which Wen Jiabao’s last visit to India threw up in 2005 may have got blurred, but he must have gone back with greater awareness of Indian concerns about the emerging regional and international scenario.

This might turn out to be Wen Jiabao’s last visit to India although the two agreed to step up annual bilateral engagement between the two countries.

Competent analysts are of the view that essentially the visit was aimed at arresting the decline in relationship during the last two years, removing “irritants” and letting  the new leadership in China decide its foreign policy after two years.

Essentially, India and China have come to agree that it is better to step up mutual engagement than make strident noises that add to mistrust.

– DNA, December 29th, 2010