It’s a welcome development that New Delhi has found time to hold talks with Pakistan in the midst of internal upheavals that the Manmohan Singh government faces. Foreign Secretaries of the two countries are meeting later this month at Islamabad. They talked to each other during the summit at Thimpu, Bhutan, in February but apparently found little time to pursue any topic.

No agenda has been announced so far. But from the talks Indian Foreign Secretary Nirupama Rao has had with the visiting Pakistani journalists indicates that India would like to resume the dialogue. Her statement that the bilateral dialogue was meant to bring the 26/11 perpetrators to justice may create difficulties. This has been hanging fire for two and a half years. True, Pakistan Foreign Secretary Salman Bashir has been blunt enough to say that the 26/11 attacks were “an incident of the past” as if Islamabad has already put the tragedy behind it.

I sensed the same approach when some TV channels from Pakistan interviewed me a few days ago. They said that when it had been decided between the two countries to separate terrorism from the talks, India should not get stuck at the 26/11 happenings. What they do not understand – I told them so – that there is great anger over the use of Pakistani soil for an attack on Mumbai. Had some culprits got punished or been near to it, people in India would have believed that Islamabad was serious about the speedy trial. Lashkar-e-Toiba (LeT) chief Hafiz Saeed, who helped plan and execute the attacks, goes on ranting and has no full stop in his jihadi threats against New Delhi. 

David Headley’s acquittal of involvement in the 26/11 attacks at the Chicago trial has come as a big disappointment to India. And the general suspicion is that the US did not want the Inter Services Intelligence (ISI) to be singled out. This seems far-fetched when the US itself told us of the “involvement” of the ISI. Moreover, to suspect the US court and the jury for pronouncing anti-India judgment is not fair. Every country has its own legal system. As long as the country is democratic its courts should be treated as kangaroo courts.

However, Headley has damaged the ISI enough by admitting in the open court that terror outfit Lashkar-e-Toiba got “assistance” from Pakistan’s ISI for the Mumbai terror attack. It is difficult to buy the thesis that the ISI, feared at home, is at the back of terrorists because they have killed many army men. And there is no doubt that the ISI is manned and controlled by the army. It is possible that some rouge elements in the ISI might be helping the Taliban. It is also possible that some jihad-inclined men within the army might be harming the force. But it does not follow from this that the Taliban have the support of the ISI or the army.
The case of India is different in the sense that Pakistan considers it an enemy. The ISI must have been in the picture on the 26/11 attacks. If the question before us is to normalise relations with Pakistan, we cannot ask it to admit that the ISI is an instrument in the hands of the army or, for that matter, Pakistan. We have to live with it to go further. They too have doubts about RAW, although exaggerated.

Indeed, New Delhi went against public opinion in India when it began talks with Islamabad after a long suspension. For most, it is the punishment of the 26/11 perpetrators or nothing else. But now that the dialogue is taking place it should be part of the agenda which can cover other subjects. No doubt, the Home, Water Resources, Commerce and Defence secretaries of the two countries have met in the last one year. But there does not seem to have been any progress. It is difficult to know which country is to blame because there is no transparency.

The two sides meet and disperse often without even any cliché-ridden statement. People do not know why the Sir Creek agreement, ready to be signed, has not been signed. Nor do they know why the Siachin Glacier pact, initialed by the then Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi, has not gone through, continuing a loss of crores of rupees to both sides every day. Pakistan has given a non-paper on the subject. What does it say? People do not know what the paper contains because only its publication would enable them to make their own judgment.

The problem with the dialogue between India and Pakistan has been that public is kept out of what takes place during the talks. Which country took what stand and why the dialogue does not move forward from what was discussed some 60 years ago? The army is being blamed but the elected representatives, neither Zulfikar Ali Bhutto nor Begum Benazir Bhutto, could end the impasse. Conceded that there is a trust deficit, but this is at the government level. People on both sides want to normalise relations but they have not been able to do so because the governments come in their way. They are not even allowed to meet because of the visa restrictions which are so strict.

The army in Pakistan is, in fact, on the defensive after the Osama Bin Laden’s death. The arrests of some CIA informers indicate that the force is facing relentless criticism that it failed on Osama who was killed by the Americans in the Pakistani territory. For the first time the army has come out with a statement to point out that the attack on them was part of efforts to create division among important institutions.

This is an “unfortunate trend”, the army says in a press release, and needs to be stopped because it is “detrimental to national interest.” So exasperated is the army that it has even said it doesn’t need the US aid which should be diverted to economic developments. Chief of Army Staff General Parvez Kayani has said that in the last 10 years the army has been given only $1.4 billion from the some $8 billion aid received from the US.

Yet, the army has gone from strength to strength in defence as well as civil matters and stays crucial to any breakthrough with India. Somehow, it is not convinced that a rapprochement with New Delhi can help Islamabad to face, if not retrieve, the situation within Pakistan. History will repeat itself if no lesson is learnt from it. By now, both India and Pakistan should have realised that and become at least decent neighbours.