/ 28 September 2009

Little hope for India-Pakistan dialogue — for now

Ties between nuclear-armed rivals India and Pakistan will not improve while the cloud of last November’s militant assault on Mumbai hangs over their interactions, Pakistani and Indian analysts said on Monday.

India was using the Mumbai attack to pile pressure on Pakistan and distract attention from the issues that have soured relations for decades, a Pakistani analyst said.

An Indian analyst said India had yet to see a strategic shift in Pakistan’s dealing with the Islamist militants who carried out the Mumbai attack, and public anger over Mumbai would prevent any early resumption of their nearly five-year-old peace process.

The Indian and Pakistani foreign ministers met in New York on Sunday with Pakistan signalling its desire to mend fences with a hesitant India, but the ministers stopped short of announcing a resumption of fully-fledged peace negotiations.

”India is using this time to bring Pakistan under the maximum pressure that it can on the question of terrorism,” said Shamshad Ahmed Khan, a former Pakistani foreign secretary.

”I don’t think India is in the mood to let dialogue resume at this time. I don’t think they’ll miss this opportunity to put Pakistan against the wall,” he said.

Pakistan has acknowledged that the coordinated attacks on Mumbai in which 166 people were killed were plotted and partly launched from its soil. It is prosecuting seven suspects in a closed-door hearing that resumes on October 3.

India, however, is pressing Pakistan to prosecute Hafiz Mohammad Saeed, the founder of the Lashkar-e-Taiba militant group India says was behind the Mumbai attack.

Saeed was detained in Pakistan in December, after a United Nations Security Council resolution put him on a list of people and organisations supporting al-Qaeda.

But in June, a court released him on grounds of insufficient evidence, prompting the Pakistani government to lodge an appeal with the Supreme Court for his re-arrest. That case is pending while Saeed remains under virtual house arrest.

”Strategic shift”
That’s not enough for India.

”I don’t think the Indian side has got the sense that Pakistan is serious about doing something,” said Manoj Joshi, a foreign affairs commentator in India.

”You can’t get anywhere unless there’s a feeling in India that there’s been a strategic shift in Pakistan’s manner of dealing with religious extremists.”

The United States wants the rivals to reduce tension and resume dialogue on a range of issues from trade to the disputed Kashmir region — where Pakistan has long backed militants battling Indian forces — so Pakistan can focus on the war against the Taliban and al-Qaeda on its Afghan border.

After Sunday’s talks, Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi said he had made a proposal to India on how they might improve relations, including a timetable, but he gave no details.

Khan dismissed the significance of such talk.

”They’re doing this under pressure from Washington only to display their seriousness to resume dialogue,” he said.

”Islamabad should not lose a night’s sleep if there’s no dialogue with India at the moment because any dialogue that takes place in this environment will not produce results,” Khan said. ”It would only be a cosmetic exercise.”

Another Indian analyst said public anger over Mumbai in India would prevent India from pushing ahead with talks.

”The Indian public will perhaps pull back the government. Even if the government was willing to take some chances, it will be very difficult because they have lost face in India,” said Shashank, a former Indian foreign secretary who uses only one name.

But in its desire to get talks going Pakistan also had to be careful not to appear to be appeasing India, said Pakistani academic and analyst Shaheen Akhtar.

While condemning the horror of the Mumbai assault, Khan said it had allowed India to divert attention from Kashmir.

Earlier, Indian intellectuals were beginning to sympathise with the Kashmiri people and US President Barack Obama had spoken of the need to resolve the Kashmir dispute, he said.

”They want to push Pakistan to a place where the only issue to be negotiated would be terrorism — all other issues would be sidelined,” Khan said. — Reuters