Disappointing and surprising

Published: January 30, 2013

The writer was Pakistan’s ambassador to the EU from 2002-2004 and to the US in 1999

The Indian president’s comment on the eve of his country’s Republic Day that while India was “always ready to offer a hand in the hope of friendship … this should not be taken for granted”, could not but cause disappointment and surprise in Pakistan.

Relations between the two South Asian neighbours have never been free of mutual doubts and misgivings, even in the best of times. They are also accident prone and, therefore, need to be handled with care and caution, which explains why even stray incidents can derail well-laid plans for normalisation.

Admittedly, the LoC had been generally quiet for nearly a decade, but it is not unusual for an incident to raise the political temperature. But what took observers by surprise was the failure of local commanders to settle what was originally a minor difference that led to shelling and death on both sides. The Indian media, too, was not helpful, ignoring important facts and focusing on preconceived notions. A couple of journalists did, however, do the honourable thing by admitting that even the suspected beheading of an Indian soldier, while definitely reprehensible, was not a unique incident as India itself had perpetrated similar acts. But worse was to follow, when this led to threats and warnings from senior Indian military officials, who have been demonstrating increasing interest in relations with Pakistan. Soon, however, political leaders, too, joined in the fray with public denunciations, which is when the Pakistanis woke up to this worrying development.

After all, there is no denying that there currently exists a consensus in Pakistan that opposes hostility towards India and favours improved relations with it. This view is shared by the civil and military leadership, as well as the opposition parties, the media and civil society. Developments over the past years had led many Pakistanis, especially those genuinely desirous of cordial and cooperative ties, to believe that relations between the two countries were finally moving in the right direction.

Consequently, Pakistanis could reach few truly convincing explanations for Indian President Pranab Mukherjee’s remark, or for the earlier harsh comments by the usually unflappable Manmohan Singh and the staid Mrs Gandhi. One can, therefore, do no more than speculate as to why sober sentiments were abandoned and the decision taken to whip up national passions.

True, the Manmohan Singh government appears to have lost its national moorings; some even claim that it is merely drifting, marking time before it enters the election fray under the recently anointed leadership of Rahul Gandhi. Elections will be fought on domestic issues and yet there is the lurking fear that relations with Pakistan, on which there is no evidence of a national consensus, could become an election issue. There appears little recognition in India either, that the peace process has so far focused on issues of primary interest to India, especially as the talks have remained confined to trade, terrorism and people-to-people contacts. Pakistan has conceded much on these issues in the expectation of reciprocal gestures in other areas but there is no sign of those, so far. In fact, most analysts are convinced that sounding tough on Pakistan rather than appearing conciliatory is a safer strategy, particularly so as not to provide fodder to the BJP anti-Pakistan mills.

It is somewhat ironic that the positive development of Pakistan’s recognition of the threat that domestic extremism and terrorism poses to the country’s security, amidst signs of improvement in Pakistan’s relations with the US, especially in the context of the role that Islamabad could play in the reconciliation process in Afghanistan, should be cited by Indian commentators to explain what is described as India’s discomfiture at Pakistan’s raised profile. One can only hope this is not true because the normalisation process can become meaningful and durable only when it is negotiated with a confident, democratic Pakistan and is based on a genuine recognition of the need to resolve all our differences, in a spirit of mutual accommodation.

Published in The Express Tribune, January 30th, 2013.

Reader Comments (16)

  • John B
    Jan 30, 2013 - 3:21AM

    Having perpetrated global jihad, PAK has a lot of unfinished business of atonement to her neighbors and to the world. It could be a good start, if PAK starts rounding up the strategic assets.

    “”justice for 26/11 Mumbai people is an unfinished business and it is a high priority”- Sec. Clinton. Now, expecting Indians to turn the other cheek is stupidity especially when the old wounds are deliberately open. The lack remorse and sincerity to investigate the beheading incidence as if it is no big deal is a shame- it does not matter who poked who- the pride of PAK institution is at stake and it should have gone on vengeance to investigate who were the beheading culprits.

    Then again, when the interior minister of PAK starts echoing the words of philanthropic terrorist with bounty on his head, then there is no sincerity in PAK gestures or statements.

    Are PAK institutions so incompetent that they cannot nab the freely roaming UN, US, India wanted terrorist? What kind of an excuse PAK gives when she chairs the UN SC ?

    Never mind, no amount of soul searching is going to shake an obtuse recalcitrant.

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  • gp65 .
    Jan 30, 2013 - 3:24AM

    “After all, there is no denying that there currently exists a consensus in Pakistan that opposes hostility towards India and favours improved relations with it.”

    There manybe a politicial consensus on this i Pakistan. However people who own your foerign policy i.e. your army does not buy into that consensus. Some of the markers that we see
    – No sincerity in trying to identify and prosecute those responsible for 26/11
    – Manufacturing outrage against India based on false pretext through outright lies e.g. India is stealing water, India has 19 consulates in Afghanistan, deliberately misrepresenting MFN as something optional when in fact it is mandatory under WTO norms
    – DPC (which we all know is backed by the army) openly making anti-India speeches
    – Anti-India terrorist groups openly collecting funds despite being ostensibly banned
    – Ongoing attempts to infiltrate jihadis to India by providing cover fire leading to increasing trend in ceasefire violations by Pakistan (58 in 2010, 60 in 2011 and 100+ in 2012).

    Neither media nor individuals in India want war with Pakistan and the word war was not used by any of senior government minister or military leaders in India. The only person who used the term was Hina Rabbani Khar when she accused India of war mongering. It is however a false dichotomy that starting a war and capitulation to Pakistani aggression are the only 2 available options to India, implying incorrectly thereby that since India does not want to start a war it has no choice but to capitulate. This is what the President was trying to communicate. Please know that President of India’s speech on the Republic Day is not made in an individual capacity but represents the Government of India.

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  • gp65 .
    Jan 30, 2013 - 3:31AM

    “here appears little recognition in India either, that the peace process has so far focused on issues of primary interest to India, especially as the talks have remained confined to trade, terrorism and people-to-people contacts. Pakistan has conceded much on these issues in the expectation of reciprocal gestures in other areas but there is no sign of those, so far. “

    Pakistan has conceded NOTHING in the area of trade. MFN was granted to Pakistan by India in 1996 and in fact is mandatory for Pakistan to give to India as a member of WTO. Even here Pakistan has simply made verbal commitment – not followed through.

    Pakistan has conceded NOTHING in the area of terrorism. There has been no sincerity in the area of identifying and prosecuting the planners of 26/11. The anti-India terror groups openly raise funds. No attempt is made to close down anti-India terrorist camps in Mirpur.

    The notion that people to people contacts benefit India and not Pakistan is strange to say the least. It is Pakistani sportspeople and artistes who show a desire to work in India not the reverse.

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  • Jim
    Jan 30, 2013 - 4:18AM

    What is wrong with the Indian president saying India was “always ready to offer a hand in the hope of friendship … this should not be taken for granted” — how is that hostile and why should it cause disappointment and surprise in Pakistan? In Indian perception Pakistan has been unremittingly hostile and betrayed Indian overtures several times. It has initiated several wars and doctored history and national sentiment. So Indians are distrustful of Pakistan. There may be consensus among Pakistani elites about peace with India because the terrorists are also at their doors. The consensus in india is to ignore you, to shut you out. We don’t been you, we don’t need trade with you, and you have NOTHING to offer to India or the retst of the world unless you change your way of thinking and your national DNA based on lies.

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  • Anjaan
    Jan 30, 2013 - 5:32AM

    Quote – ” …… the peace process has so far focused on issues of primary interest to India, especially as the talks have remained confined to trade, terrorism and people-to-people contacts. Pakistan has conceded much on these issues in the expectation of reciprocal gestures in other areas but there is no sign of those, so far.” – unquote

    - As far as India is concerned, until and unless the perpetrators of the Mumbai massacre are brought to justice in Pakistan, Pakistan has not moved an inch towards genuine reconciliation with India. Cosmetic gestures from Pakistan will not help sweep the real issue under the rug.Recommend

  • Zalim singh
    Jan 30, 2013 - 7:46AM

    why should India have faith in Pakistan. Even to this day 28/11 perpetrators are hiding in your country.

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  • Alan
    Jan 30, 2013 - 8:26AM

    author very conveniently forgets Mumbai and Pak leaders like Saeed and the foolish interior minister.

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  • Vikrant
    Jan 30, 2013 - 9:53AM

    “… in the expectation of reciprocal gestures in other areas” — just WHAT does this author mean by this? Is Pakistan and Pakistanis like him so naive to assume that just because of MFN and increased relations in sporting, cultural, visa ties etc that Pakistan will somehow get sovereignty over Indian territory like J&K, Siachen, Sir Creek etc on a platter… ??? Then if this is so it is seriously mistaken and like living in a Fools Paradise. It would be better to make explicit what are your (Pakistan’s) expectations about opening up to India as good neighbors (even if we don’t have to be “friends”) — and what are your minimum expectations. And if India is not amenable to it, it would be better for Pakisan and Pakistanis to stop living in a Fools Paradise and look elsewhere for trade and cooperation. Simply put, there is no way and under no circumstances that India is going to concede even an iota of sovereignty over territory. The wishes of a few million anti-Indians cannot override the overwhelmingly pro-India (over a Billion) sentiments that state that J&K always was and always will be India, for as long as India itself exists…. If Pakistan wants “Peace” with India, they will have to stop wanting a “Piece of India” — in any case Pakistan has bitten off a bit in 1947-48 but seems to be struggling to even keep that in order, having since then also conceded a huge Bengali “Piece” in Dec 1971! So, anything “disappointing” or “surprising” about all this… dear Sir?

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  • Komal S
    Jan 30, 2013 - 10:03AM

    It is kind of surprising that everybody in Pakistan keeps saying that BJP is anti-pakistan. Vajpayee from BJP was instrumental in bringing India/Pakistan closer post nuclear detonation. Advani and Jaswant Singh both have said/written enough to talk about friendly India/Pakistan relationships. CM of Bihar Mr. Nitish Kumar is from BJP alliance and he recently visited Pakistan. It is the congress government which made it public that Indian soldier was be-headed by Pakistani soldier by crossing our border. Given that we are in ceasefire situation it is very normal for public and opposition parties to raise this issue. I have an issue with Pakistani journalist and intellects attribute Indian government reaction to pressure from BJP. I agree that Governments from either side should find better ways of dealing with this, and before that both Governments should have trust/faith that the other Government is equally appalled by these incidents and would take every action to find culprits or prevent this from happening.

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  • Indian Wisdom
    Jan 30, 2013 - 10:48AM

    The Indian president’s comment on the eve of his country’s Republic Day that while India was “always ready to offer a hand in the hope of friendship … this should not be taken for granted”, could not but cause disappointment and surprise in Pakistan.

    But why???? The hands for friendship in past has been rewarded with Kargil and parliament attacks….
    India is just getting practical and cautious for future, that’s all !!

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  • Hasan
    Jan 30, 2013 - 10:59AM

    A very balanced piece that contains an excellent analysis of the current state of relations between the two countries. Genuine peace requires a willingnesss to give and take. There has so far been no evidence of this from our larger neighbor. In such a situation, Pakistan cannot continue to give in on every demand. That is neither fair nor sustainable. There has to be some element of reciprocity.

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  • BlackJack
    Jan 30, 2013 - 11:47AM

    …that while India was “always ready to offer a hand in the hope of friendship … this should not be taken for granted”, could not but cause disappointment and surprise in Pakistan. I can understand the disappointment – Pakistan has always taken India for granted, this sudden unreasonable expectation must be most disconcerting.

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  • Feroz
    Jan 30, 2013 - 2:13PM

    Talks will remain focused on issues of only terrorism because Indians are not interested in discussing any issue involving transfer of even an square foot of land. No idea who is being fooled by all the talks going on for years, certainly not the people of the two countries.

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  • Murali
    Jan 30, 2013 - 6:12PM

    @Hasan:
    India should give Kashmir bend on knees and bow for mercy. Otherwise Pakistan is capable of giving 26/11, kargil, parliament attack.

    Your tone and tenor noted my friend.
    Let us see what the almighty has divested for us.

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  • gp65 .
    Jan 30, 2013 - 7:45PM

    One of my fellow Indians had written elsewhere that Pakistan views any concessions from India as entitlement and any verbal commitments of reciprocation (without implementation) by Pakistan as appeasement. It is this mindset which causes such heartburn among Pakistani intellectuals when India actually holds Pakistan’s feet on fire and hold it accountable for commitments. After all, that is all that the President said, that India should not be taken for granted.

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  • Gratgy
    Jan 30, 2013 - 9:43PM

    Pakistan is not a juvenile any more, it is 65 years old. At some point others will expect it to be accountable for its actions.

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