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Rehman Malik’s Visit Can We Move Ahead?
By Monish Tourangbam
India-Pakistan ties has greatly influenced security perceptions in South Asia wherein prospects for regional economic integration hinge on relations between the neighbours and often determine the atmospherics of SAARC summits with other member countries blaming India-Pakistan enmity for scuttling growth in the region.

Moreover, as international forces prepare to drawdown in Afghanistan by 2014 end, New Delhi and Islamabad's approaches towards Kabul would be pivotal for the region's security and beyond. So, where do India-Pakistan relations stand presently?

Significantly, the differences are many-pronged, nevertheless it is important to find areas where interests converge whereby the two countries can work together. Hopes have been raised recently, with both attempting to give economic momentum to ties, even as differences persist on 'core' issues.

Recall, high level reciprocal visits culminated in the signing of a liberal visa agreement and its operalisation during the just concluded visit of Pakistan's Interior Minister Rehman Malik.

Indeed, the visa agreement is a welcome step towards easing and enhancing people-to-people contact between the neighbours. It allows multi-city visas up to five cities, visas for two years for senior citizens and children below 12 years, visa on arrival for senior citizens, group tourist visa, and exempts specified categories of businessmen from police reporting.

Asserted Malik: "When they (Indians) enter Pakistan, they should feel they are coming to their own home. Similar should be the case when people of Pakistan enter India. We are all here to take the peace process forward." But this is easier said than done given the trust deficit between the two countries over security issues, especially vis-a-vis counter-terrorism.

Undeniably, notwithstanding efforts to improve economic cooperation, the course of ties has been determined by the Pakistan Government's cooperation; or rather the lack of it, towards prosecuting Pakistanis responsible for the 26/11 Mumbai attacks.

For New Delhi, justice for the Mumbai attack victims is a vital component of its responsibility to the people. True, Ajmal Kasab's hanging had symbolic significance, it did nothing to unravel the highly planned and coordinated attacks on Mumbai and the brains behind it.

And, this is where Islamabad's sincerity towards counter-terrorism cooperation is being tested specially as prosecuting anti-India mastermind Hafiz Saeed does not seem to be in Pakistan's scheme of things to do.

Plainly, despite many dossiers provided and repeated requests by New Delhi to fast-tracking Saeed's case, Islamabad has only responded by citing lack of evidence. The same was reiterated by the Minister Malik who averred he would order Saeed's arrest the moment he gets credible evidence.

Predictably, Union Home Minister Sushilkumar Shinde rejected Malik's grandiose statement stating that such promises were made by Pakistan's Government in the past too, but never fulfilled.

According to Malik, evidences had to satisfy Pakistani Court, which freed Saeed on three previous occasions citing lack of evidence. More. Negating the legitimacy of New Delhi's dossiers, he noted that Islamabad had received dossiers which contained only information and no evidence.

Also, Kasab's statement regarding Saeed's involvement in the Mumbai attacks was not enough. "It needs further corroboration… I will make public official documents from the Court's judgement where Saeed has been declared innocent," Malik pointed out.

On a more positive note, India's National Investigation Agency (NIA) probing the 26/11 attack is likely to visit Pakistan in mid-January while a Pakistani judicial panel could visit India soon. The NIA wants to examine material evidence against key masterminds and accused when in Pakistan.

Unlike the eight-member Pakistani Judicial Commission which visited India in March last but did not cross-examine the 26/11 witnesses, the Commission will now do so in its upcoming visit and present its findings to the Pakistani Court.

Further, Malik underscored that the voice samples of the 26/11 handlers giving directions during the Mumbai attacks have to be matched with the ones on tape. Adding, according to Pakistan's law the voice samples "cannot be given unless permission is given by the accused himself".

In fact, he sought to negate negative publicity emanating from his comparison of the 26/11 attacks with the Babrid Masjid's demolition, by denying having ever compared the two and instead offered investigation into the death of Kargil martyr Captain Saurabh Kalia.

Pertinently, the ferocity of the Mumbai attacks coupled with the sense of acute insecurity and anger inflicted among Indians has accentuated the issue of tackling terrorism emanating from Pakistan.

True, Islamabad too is facing the brunt of its home-grown terrorism but it is largely a result of its myopic policies and the high-handed insularity of some of the State's machineries, namely the military and the intelligence.

Thus, when Islamabad talks to New Delhi, it would not suffice to say that Pakistan is also a victim of terrorism. This, by no way, negates the fact that innocent Indian people, have long been, victims of terrorism bred in Pakistani soil.

Undoubtedly, Indians have suffered too many attacks, minor and major, planned on Pakistani soil. Hence, no Government in New Delhi can afford to go easy on the terrorism issue, especially in the 26/11 aftermath. At the same time New Delhi understands there is no gain in cutting diplomatic channels as it did post the attacks.

Needless to say, we need economic engagement along-with people-to-people contacts to enhance ties, but at the end the most effective confidence building measure from Pakistan, will be to act sincerely against anti-India groups nestled on its soil. Islamabad must understand and acknowledge why the issue of Pakistan-based terrorism acquires such primacy in New Delhi's policy-making.

In sum, even as Malik was rhetorically lavish, "I come with a message of love and peace from the people of Pakistan. I do not want any negativity today. What I want is a positive message and view forward… Let's forget the dark days, let's enter with shining stars, with smiling faces and clear hearts."

Clearly, hopes of 'Aman Ki Asha' have often been followed by the dark shadows of realities. And, in the near future, besides endeavours of economic and people-to-people ties, the developments in the 26/11 case and India and Pakistan's security perceptions in Afghanistan will shape the nature of the relationship. -

(The author is Associate Fellow, Observer Research Foundation, New Delhi)


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News Updated at : Tuesday, December 25, 2012
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