Indo-Pak Talks Over Already?


Another round of Indo-Pakistani talks has drawn to a close, and, once again, there’s little to shout about. India had suspended discussions in the aftermath of the horrific terrorist attacks on Mumbai in November 2008, and, given the secrecy that surrounded these latest talks, it’s far from clear what exactly was said as they resumed.

But what we do know doesn’t give much cause for optimism.

The public statements of Pakistani Foreign Secretary Salman Bashir, who led the country’s delegation, were neither cordial nor helpful. Among other things, he declared that the evidence that India had presented in the dossier against Hafiz Mohammed Sayeed, the head of the dreaded Lashkar-e-Taiba terrorist group, was ‘literature not evidence.’  Such a remark will only strengthen existing opposition to the talks within India (where there is little support for them) and undermine the likelihood of further discussions, something already complicated by much wariness on the part of the Pakistani military.

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For her part, Indian Foreign Secretary Nirupama Rao offered little of substance in her public comments, simply reiterating the government’s known stance in demanding Pakistan eschew all ties to terror. She also made clear that while Pakistan should be commended on the steps it has taken to bring the perpetrators of the November 2008 terrorist attacks to justice, her government hoped that much more was to follow–and soon.

Such pronouncements are all too familiar–India outlines its previously stated positions and Pakistan dismisses these concerns. Yet frustrating as the outcome is, it should hardly have been a surprise. The civilian regime of Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari, which faces various legal challenges at home, exists at the sufferance of the Pakistani military establishment. Under these circumstances, it was simply unreasonable to expect that any real movement would take place.

Why then is India persisting with the talks? At least three explanations of varying probability can be proffered. First, India is under pressure from the United States to renew negotiations with Pakistan. This view, popular in New Delhi, is perhaps the least plausible. Given the chill that has entered Indo-US relations following a number of awkward clashes with the Obama administration, including over the clumsy US suggestion in Beijing that China might play a positive role in easing tensions in South Asia, it’s unlikely the government in New Delhi is in the mood to heed American exhortations.

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