Indian journo, writing on India-Pakistan issue in a Chinese newspaper. A first for me!

Christmas eve meeting first step toward resuming India-Pakistan dialogue


Global Times | 2014-1-5 23:03:02
By Nitin A Gokhale



Illustration: Liu Rui/GT


As the world welcomes the New Year, Indian and Pakistani armies may want to leave behind the bad memories of 2013.

It was by far the worst year on the Line of Control (LOC), the de facto border between the two countries in a decade since they put in place a “cease-fire” in November 2003.

Starting from mid-January 2013, India and Pakistan witnessed a series of armed border skirmishes.

India said unprovoked Pakistani firing breached the cease-fire at least 200 times through 2013.

As charges and counter-charges flew thick and fast, the prime ministers of the two countries met in New York in September on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly.

India Prime Minister Manmohan Singh kept his appointment with Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif despite fierce and vocal opposition back home following an attack on an Indian Army base and a police station in Jammu by Pakistan-based terrorists that killed 10 people including an Indian Army lieutenant colonel just three days before they were to meet.

By all accounts it was a simple, business-like encounter.

One positive outcome, however, was both agreed to lower the temperature.

As a start, they decided that the generals of the two border armies would meet and find ways to restore the decade-old cease-fire.

It took three months for them to sit across a table.

They eventually met at Wagah when India’s Director General Military Operations (DGMO) Lieutenant General Vinod Bhatia travelled across the LOC to confer with Pakistan Army DGMO Major General Aamer Riaz.

The Christmas eve meeting was the first in 14 years.

Their predecessors had met in the immediate aftermath of the Kargil conflict in 1999.

A joint statement issued at the end of the three-hour-long meeting indicated a thaw in the making.

“Both sides reiterated resolve and commitment to continue efforts for ensuring a cease-fire, peace and tranquility on the Line of Control,” the statement said.

Both sides agreed on “reenergizing the existing mechanisms” for resolving complaints of violations and making hotline contact more effective.

They would talk to each other on the telephone once a week.

Two flag meetings between sector commanders on the ground are likely to take place soon to carry forward decisions at the top military level.

In the larger context of fraught India-Pakistan relations, this meeting is a first step toward regaining confidence in each other.

Since 2008 in the wake of the terrorist attack on India’s commercial capital Mumbai that killed 166 people, in which  Pakistan-based Lashkar-e-Taiba terrorists were involved, New Delhi and Islamabad have struggled to keep dialogue open.

India wants Pakistan to bring to book the masterminds of the Mumbai attack including Jamaat-ud-Dawa leader Hafiz Saeed, still based in Pakistan.

For various reasons however, Pakistan has not been able to take any tangible action on that front.

For the Indian leadership, accused by many of being soft on Pakistan despite the Mumbai attack, it is difficult to resume dialogue with Pakistan unless Sharif takes visible action.

It was perhaps in this context that the Pakistani director general of military operations invited his Indian counterpart for that critical December 24 dialogue.

Now it is up to the political leadership to take the process forward, but with India slipping into election season and the current government seemingly on the back foot because of a series of corruption scandals and electoral reverses in recent provincial polls, any serious progress in India-Pakistan relations is unlikely until the next government takes charge in summer.

Till then, a peaceful border between the two countries is all that one can hope and pray for.

The author is security & strategic affairs editor with Indian Broadcaster, NDTV.