Chidambaram’s Plane to Pakistan
Bilateral meetings on the fringes of multi-lateral conferences aren’t unusual. But the one P Chidambaram had with his Pakistani counterpart, Rahman Malik during the SAARC interior ministers’ conference was unique in a way that it was the first of its kind.
From all available accounts, no Indian Home Minister before Chidambaram had set foot on Pakistani soil since the Partition. So while many commentators focused on the visit’s substantive outcome, I was in thrall of its symbolism.
Why? Well, how often does one find Home Ministers whose job entails talking tough, engaged with, rather than engaged against each other? Never before had the future of Indo-Pak dialogue been as much hinged on an interaction on the sidelines of a multilateral conference.
What better way could there have been— than a meeting between Home Ministers — to address the trust deficit the two sides had set out to bridge while signaling resumption of talks at Thimpu, Bhutan? By agreeing to so engage, India rightly seized the opportunity to flag concerns over terrorism from the very soil that provides it sustenance.
Every word that Chidambaram uttered was heard in rapt attention by his hosts and the media. In certain Pakistani circles, he was perceived as India’s next PM in the event of a delay in Rahul Gandhi’s elevation. A former Pak High Commissioner to India even joked about the language in which Malik— whose English isn’t all that good— would converse with the erudite Indian leader.
Atmospherics apart, the value and the longevity of Pak assurances— of going after the masterminds of Mumbai attacks, will have to be tested over time. Chidambaram was politically and diplomatically correct when he said after the talks: “Nobody is questioning intentions; we are looking for outcomes…which alone will decide if we are on the right track.”
Malik announced in the Indian minister’s presence that the CBI and the Pak Federal Investigating Agency would collaborate in fighting terrorism and brining the Mumbai attackers to book. The exact contours of their relationship weren’t immediately clear. But coordination between these Interpol linked probe agencies makes practical sense.
Intelligence chiefs of the two countries — Rajiv Mathur and Javed Noor — also set up a dialogue table. Real time and honest cooperation between the agencies they head can go a long way in giving terrorists a run for their munitions.
The first real test of this tenuous equation is the Indian demand for voice samples of the Mumbai gang’s Pakistani handlers, including Hafiz Sayeed and other LeT big daddies. Malik’s assurances were a huge improvement over Pak foreign secretary Salman Bashir’s description of Indian dossiers as “literature” while he was in India earlier this year.
“We’ve understood the gravity of the Mumbai attacks, which is why we have arrested seven people. We will take action on whatever credible information we are given,” the Hindu quoted the Pak Interior Minister as having stated. He also promised to furnish voice samples sought by New Delhi to establish identities of LeT handlers in conversations recorded during 26/11.
The dialogue’s success or failure will depend on the civilian regime’s ability to deliver on its assurances. The likes of Hafiz Sayeed cannot be sorted out without the ruling politico and Army being on the same page.
There’s no proof — not yet — about General Kayani and his corps commanders ceasing to view India as an adversary in the east and the northwest. Many observers believe India and Pakistan cannot be friends so long they are engaged in a turf-war in Afghanistan.