Sunday, Apr 27, 2003
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By Amit Baruah
There is relief that the tone and tenor of statements coming from New Delhi and Islamabad are without the bitterness and rancour that have become a feature of their relations.
However, doubts remain. The Prime Minister, Atal Behari Vajpayee, may have spoken about dialogue in Srinagar, but his subsequent remarks mark a return to the "beaten path".
In a statement in Parliament on Wednesday, Mr. Vajpayee said that stopping cross-border infiltration and destroying terrorist infrastructure would open the door to dialogue.
The G-8 meeting in Evian, France, is expected to take up the India-Pakistan issue and the United States Deputy Secretary of State, Richard Armitage, will be in India and Pakistan early next month for talks. Mr. Vajpayee's Srinagar statement will at least provide New Delhi with the opportunity to say that dialogue is not a closed option.
Given the latest suicide attacks in Kashmir, there is the possibility that the anti-dialogue lobby in New Delhi will be strengthened. In fact, the dialogue process might "wait" for a resumption of transport links snapped by India after the December 13, 2001 attack on the Parliament building.
Given the fact that it was India which took the "pro-active" steps of shutting down the air, bus and rail links and recalling its High Commissioner to Pakistan, the initiative must be taken by New Delhi.
If the dialogue has to be more than just contact, then restoring the "pre-December 13" situation is crucial for setting the tone for resuming discussions between the South Asian rivals. As of now, the diplomatic presence in New Delhi and Islamabad has become an exercise in "summoning" diplomats and registering protests. Even for the restoration of basic transport links, enormous political will is needed.
There has been some discussion at the highest levels of Government here that "stalemate" cannot be a substitute to "policy". But terrorist attacks could, once again, change the story.
However, it is evident that the Vajpayee Government is running out of options insofar as dealing with Pakistan is concerned.
In the middle of the military mobilisation last year, incidents such as Kaluchak and the attack on the Akshardham temple took place and the Government could do little but watch.
The hard reality is that military strikes are not an option at a time when Islamabad is an avowed nuclear power.
The "response threshold" to any Indian provocation will not be determined in New Delhi but in Rawalpindi.
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