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India-Pakistan: Reducing Trust deficit

By Rahil Yasin

27 May, 2010

The statements of Pakistani and Indian heavy-weights during the past week show an apparent shift in the approach of upper ranks of both the countries. They have finally realized that the challenge lies in reducing the trust deficit between the two countries. Resumption of the Composite Dialogue is the only way forward to fix the nerve-racking relations shattered by the 2008 Mumbai attacks that New Dehli blamed on Pakistani militants.

In a news conference, Mr Manmohan said a major diplomatic effort was under way to improve ties between India and Pakistan, and he was hopeful the talks would succeed. He also reiterated India’s willingness to discuss "all outstanding issues" as long as Pakistani territory is not used for attacks against India.

Mr. Manmohan’s exceptional statement is not less than a major leap forward as diplomatic circles encircle Kashmir snarl as well in the statement about ‘all outstanding issues’. Without solving Kashmir issue, it looks impossible to have any improvement in other spheres. For Pakistan, the core dispute is over Kashmir, which both countries claim in full but rule in part. Issues including water, Indian intrusion in Balochistan and use of Afghanistan soil against Pakistan have also surfaced in the recent times. Likewise, for India, the main issue in its relations with Pakistan is security which is threatened by attacks allegedly backed by Pakistani militants.

Indian External Affairs Minister S.M. Krishna will visit Islamabad on July 15 for talks with his counterpart Shah Mehmood Qureshi. Indian minister’s visit would be of great importance to cut trust deficit. It would be the best opportunity for Pakistan to raise all outstanding issues with Mr. Krishna. It is a positive sign that India is ready to discuss Kashmir issue as well. Pakistan must get benefit of the situation. Alike, if Pakistan has solid proofs of Indian involvement in Balochistan, it should hand over those evidences to Mr Krishna in his upcoming visit to Islamabad. Without solid proofs, mere allegations and blame game cannot work well in any case.

At this critical juncture, extending hands for talks is a major breakthrough needed to repair the broken ties. These bold statements reflect a ‘change’ in Indian overture. Pakistan already had asked many a time to dispel the existing mistrust and stressed to build trust on solid foundations so people of two countries can live in peace. On this point, Pakistani foreign ministry spokesman Abdul Basit said, “To this end, Pakistan looks forward to a sustained and meaningful engagement with India with a view to free our relations from all disputes and conflicts.”

Relations between Pakistan and India remained fractured from the date back to 1947 when both the countries gained independence. Both have fought four wars including. In all these years, peace remained the biggest loser and the vested interests the winners. Now both are nuclear powers and cannot afford any war because of risks that it could turn into a nuclear war. What is needed is to bolster ties between both the countries for progress and prosperity of their people.

How would improved ties be turned into a great benefit for the two neighbors? Firstly, both countries are spending huge amounts on defence which would be curtailed in case of better ties. Secondly, trade would be increased manifold and people to people contacts would be enhanced. This would be valuable both economically and culturally. There is also an imperative need to work towards a peaceful solution of the Kashmir dispute in accordance with the wishes of the people of area.

In this connection, the most important thing seems to be ‘solid foundations’ on which ties would be based as it is well said that if foundations are solid, building would be rock-solid. The trust should not be damaged by any mishap like Mumbai attacks. For this, both the nations must not any evil elements to use their soil against the other side. As it is witnessed many times when both the countries aim to strengthen ties, some anti-peace elements have always tried to disrupt this process. It is not limited to a single country, both nations have extremist elements within their boundaries and both are facing home-grown terrorism in the form of Maoism and Talibanism. Terrorism threat needs to be addressed jointly for the greater safety of the South Asian region.

In the Indo-Pak context, CBMs (confidence building measures) can only come about when concrete moves forward are made in the most contentious areas. Trust is the foundation of any long-lasting relationship. It demands establishing peace on such solid foundations that no one dares to damage it. For this, leniency has to be shown from the both sides. Elimination of trust deficit is vital for the peace and prosperity of the two people. The earlier it is done, the better.

The writer is a freelance columnist based in Lahore. He can be reached at rahil.yasin@gmail.com