Dialogue the best way

THE Indian Prime Minister was right when he told Lok Sabha, "Unless you want to go to war with Pakistan, there is no way but to go step by step...Dialogue and engagement are the best way forward." He might have added that the continuing state of tension and indecision in the bilateral relations proved a drag on the efforts of the two countries to develop and relieve the teeming mission of the curse of poverty, and that the sooner they came to grips with the issues that kept them at odds with each other the better. Yet, it seems the composite dialogue, the means chosen by the two sides to settle disputes, is not round the corner. Its resumption has to wait till the opposition parties, outraged at the de-linking of the issue of terrorism from the peace process in the joint statement he had signed with Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani at Sharm El-Sheikh, have somewhat cooled down. Therefore, Dr Manmohan Singh also insisted that Pakistan must act effectively against terrorism before the suspended dialogue could be resumed, while at the same time defending the joint statement, raising the question what de-linking after all meant if the talks remained hostage to "evidence that action is being taken to outlaw, disarm and shut down the terrorist groups". However, he also clearly stated that Pakistan had responded to all points raised by India about the Mumbai attacks and gave some details of the dossier handed over to it by Pakistan. One hopes that the confusion by these apparently inconsistent observations would soon be resolved, just as Dr Singh himself has now contradicted the Indian External Ministry official's remark that the joint statement might be a case of "bad drafting" and owned up its contents on the floor of the House. The other point that had drawn strong criticism of Dr Singh from the opposition was the reference to the situation in Balochistan in the joint statement. It is noteworthy that Islamabad believes (and claims to have provided evidence to the Indian Prime Minister) that New Delhi is involved in disturbing the peace in the province. However, while maintaining that he told Mr Gilani that India had no interest in destabilising Pakistan, he informed the MPs that he was not scared of discussing any issue and that he had not been given any dossier by Mr Gilani on the issue. It is evident that India does realise the role of composite dialogue in normalising relations with Pakistan. But as the normalisation process can only proceed if contentious issues are out of the way, India would have to have demonstrate sincerity of purpose while tackling them, especially the core issue of Kashmir and resolve it in accordance with the aspirations of Kashmiris.

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