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Back to Talkshawk

Apparently the scheme of Pakistan-India dialogue has undergone a structural change. National Security Advisers (NSA) shall handle terrorism related matters and erstwhile ‘Composite Dialogue’ under the new brand name of ‘Comprehensive Dialogue’ shall continue to be the responsibility of two foreign offices. Now Pakistan has a fulltime NSA, may be in due course he would have his independent secretariat as well. Earlier, Pakistan had handed over three dossiers to the United Nations Secretary General in October outlining Indian pursuits of financing and facilitating terrorist activities in Pakistan. Hopefully Pakistan’s NSA would make that as a reference document while dealing with his Indian counterpart, both NSA are ex-generals one of army and the other of police. Their background knowledge and expertise pertaining to handling of counter terrorism activities should come handy while tackling the sticky assignment.

Pakistan does not mind a change of brand name from composite dialogue to comprehensive dialogue provide the spirit of talking everything simultaneously and making equitable and simultaneous progress in all eight plus sectors is ensured. India needs to prudently manage its huge domestic political baggage, which it has gathered by overplaying the issue of terrorism, and move on to other issues falling in the ambit of the comprehensive dialogue so that the process moves out of vicious zero sum encapsulation.

As Pakistan and India gear up to resume talks, Indian side is striving to wriggle out of the albatross that it grew out of its fictional and unsustainable anti-Pakistan rhetoric. Sway in the recent statements by Indian external affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj reflect the uncanny situation in which India is entrapped. Minister is striving to make believe Indian public and parliamentarians that India is only talking to Pakistan on terrorism and matters related to terrorism.

While responding to a related query during weekly briefing on December 17, the spokesperson of Pakistan’s foreign office said: “All the elements that were part of the Composite Dialogue are included in the Comprehensive Bilateral Dialogue. What is important is to have a dialogue between the two countries, which is uninterrupted and result-oriented…You must attach significance to the fact that the statement issued on December 09, 2015 was a Joint Statement”.

Shushma stated in the lower house of Indian parliament: “War is not an option…dialogue with Pakistan is the only way to remove “the shadow of terrorism”. Her comments came days after she had told the upper house of parliament that the Modi administration intended to have an ‘uninterrupted’ dialogue process with Pakistan; there is no third party, and through talks, both countries are trying to resolve the issue of terrorism.

The joint statement of December 09 had said that all issues, including Kashmir, Sir Creek, terrorism and anti-narcotic efforts, will be discussed in the comprehensive dialogue. Both sides, accordingly, agreed to a comprehensive bilateral dialogue and directed the foreign secretaries to work out the modalities and schedule of the meetings under the dialogue including peace and security, CBMs, Jammu & Kashmir, Siachen, Sir Creek, Wullar Barrage/Tulbul Navigation Project, economic and commercial cooperation, counterterrorism, narcotics control and humanitarian issues, people to people exchanges and religious tourism.

When questioned by Ganesh Singh, a BJP law maker, whether India was exploring options similar to the way US forces had mounted a raid in Abbottabad against Osama bin Laden, Sushma cautioned that “war is not an option”, rather they were talking to Pakistan on addressing alleged terror camps in Azad Kashmir. However, she warned that the talks will not be immune to provocations from ‘saboteurs’. “But we want to make it clear, our prime minister has made it clear, that talks and terror can’t go together…Dialogue is drowned by the sound of explosion”, she said.

The Times of India quoted her as saying that comprehensive bilateral dialogue is expected to begin with the objective of “removing hurdles in the path of a constructive engagement”. Swaraj told parliamentarians that they would need to have some faith for the talks to proceed. She informed them that Indian government had raised the issue of 26/11 Mumbai attacks and asked the Pakistani government to expedite the probe against alleged perpetrators. And that “Kashmir is most affected by terrorism.”

Pakistan’s High Commissioner to India Abdul Basit Pakistan said on December 16 that defeating terrorism required coherent, cogent strategy by setting aside individual and collective biases. “Terrorism is a global, regional, national and local phenomenon; it could not be defeated through half-baked and incoherent strategies”.

Pakistan’s National Security Adviser Nasir Janjua termed the meeting held between Pakistani and Indian delegations led by respective NSAs a ‘new beginning.’ In an interview to Indian newspaper, Janjua suggested to both countries to reduce tensions by forgetting the past events and to move forward with new hope and dedication. He said that the conflicts had to be resolved by the present governments instead of leaving it for future generations.

Earlier Shushma had said: “We said we can talk so that terrorism comes to an end. So talks between NSAs took place in Bangkok where we discussed about terrorism. But one meeting will not bring a solution to all the problem. So we will continue the dialogue.” She went on to state that during her recent visit to Pakistan the two sides decided that the NSAs will continue to address all issues connected to terrorism. Indian is articulating that dialogue will move forward as Pakistan helps in the trial of those accused of involvement in Mumbai terror attack of 2008. India has succeeded in turning David Headley as an approver, he has been pardoned by the trial court. Now, India would accrue statements form him aimed at incriminating Pakistan to ratchet up pressure. Indian objectives out of the dialogue process may be to keep the incremental pressure on Pakistan with regard to Mumbai attacks and pursue a transit trade route to Afghanistan and beyond. However it has not offered anything in return not even expeditious disposal of Samjhota Express bombing.

Anti-minority rhetoric on account of cow slaughtering did not attract favourable feedback within and outside India. Pakistan bashing has not brought political dividends, and during the electoral process, state after state has rejected Modi and his erratic trajectories. While Prime Minister Modi’s image in South Asia has been on the decline because of his highhandedness towards Nepal, Sri Lanka and the Maldives. India may be pinning hopes that a façade of thaw with Pakistan would mitigate the tailspin. Indian civil society’s reaction to extremist policies by BJP’s militant wing RSS has compelled political faction of BJP to redo its domestic and regional approach through tactical adjustments.

As Pakistan seeks to explore the dividends of peace with its Machiavellian neighbour, it should not lower its guard; it ought to follow a sound and viable quid pro quo approach. One must be mindful that many similar thaws have come and gone by without bringing any enduring positive change. While engaging India, Pakistan is known for unprofessional negotiation skills—showing all its cars on the outset and offering strategic concessions without accruing anything in return. There is need to watch out for Musharraf syndrome and Ufa fiasco. India appears to be trading nothing for concrete actions by Pakistan.

For the past one-and-a-half years, India had pursued a deliberate policy aimed at sabotaging bilateral dialogue with Pakistan. India has a tendency to treat even cultural and sports exchanges as a concession to Pakistan for which Pakistan must cede some strategic space; the fate of ICCI underwritten cricket series and the way India manoeuvred to scuttle it is reflective of prevailing Indian mind-set.

 

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Blasphemy issue needs a permanent solution

The good sense has prevailed, an imminent catastrophe has receded. In a written statement issued on August 30, Geert Wilders announced "not to let the cartoon contest go ahead.” The contest was to be held at the tightly guarded offices of his Party for Freedom in the Dutch parliament building. Meanwhile, the Netherlands government had been at pains to distance itself from the contest. Prime Minister Mark Rutte questioned Wilders' motive for organising the contest. Pakistan’s foreign minister congratulated the nation and Muslim Ummah on their moral victory and termed the cancellation of the contest a victory for Pakistan on the diplomatic front. Cancellation announcement came within days after Prime Minister Imran Khan issued a statement saying the act was hurting the sentiments of Muslims living all around the world. Condemning the blasphemous cartoon competition in the Netherlands, Prime Minister Imran Khan had blamed the recurrence of such incidents a collective failure of the Muslim world, saying he would take up the matter at the United Nations General Assembly’s upcoming session. After the publication of Salman Rushdi’s blasphemous book ‘Satanic Verses’, it has become very easy to malign Muslims in the West, the prime minister said. “And they have been successfully doing it.” If they [Western countries] feel pained discussing the Holocaust, why haven’t we been able to convey to the West how much we feel pained when they do blasphemous things against Islam and our beloved Holy Prophet (Peace Be Upon Him)?” Pakistan’s foreign office is undertaking a hectic diplomatic campaign to avert the exhibition of profane cartoons in November. Hopefully the good sense would prevail. Time and again, Western Christian countries purposefully hurt the religious sentiments of Muslims through public display of profane audio-visual and print material about Holy Prophet Muhammad (Peace be upon him), under the pretext of their so called doctrine of freedom of expression. In a stark contradiction, same very European States immediately imprison anyone questioning the veracity of ‘Holocaust’, while Muslims and their religion don’t get the similar preferential treatment. While earlier such incidents in Netherlands were an act of non-state actors, this time parliamentary permission to hold the forthcoming exhibition inside parliament premises had made the government of Netherlands a party to this nefarious act of religious extremism. Opposition leader Greet Wilders has a track history of airing anti-Muslim sentiment. In December 2017, he proposed that European countries should adopt Donald Trump-style travel bans to counter a wave of Islamisation, according to him, sweeping the continent. Wilders also urged Europe to adopt Australia’s tactics in turning back migrant boats and to build new border walls, as Trump had vowed to do along the US frontier with Mexico. Wilders is the parliamentary leader of his party in the House of Representatives. During his election campaign, Wilders had published a one-page election manifesto calling for a ban on all asylum seekers and migrants from Islamic nations, and urged his country to leave the European Union. Wilders also stands for banning the Quran and closing all mosques and Islamic schools. Political environment in Netherlands is quite murky and thoroughly mired in populist rhetoric, where both the government and the opposition are, more often than not, competing to appear more racist and exclusionist. Wilders was defeated in March 2017 elections by Mark Rutte. According to Guardian “cost of latter’s victory against Geert Wilders’ anti-EU, anti-immigration, anti-Islam Freedom PVV party was a pyrrhic victory”. Mark Rutte’s VVD party had adopted the very rhetoric of Wilders to beat him. Rutte had said: “something wrong with our country” and claimed “the silent majority” would no longer tolerate immigrants who come and “abuse our freedom”. Close to end of his previous tenure as Prime Minster, Rutte thought that being tough on Turkey would fetch him more votes, therefore he “happily sparked a mini-international crisis for the sake of votes”. While during the electoral campaign, Rutte said stopping Wilders was about stopping the “wrong sort of populism”. Situation is akin to India where both BJP and Congress compete to articulate more pro Hindu rhetoric to encash Hindu vote bank. Pakistan had approached Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) to lodge a protest against this planned cartoon competition in Netherlands. Former caretaker Foreign Minister Abdullah Haroon had set the dice rolling by writing a letter to the OIC Secretary General seeking his leadership for a collective action to register a protest of OIC countries with the Dutch authorities, who in turn had written to the Dutch foreign minister, on behalf of 57 Muslim countries, protesting against this abominable event. It is not the first time that the Netherlands is holding such competition. In the past also such acts have frequently been committed by this country with a malicious intent to target the noblest personality of the Holy Prophet (Pbuh). Pakistan has called upon the Dutch Ambassador to Pakistan and the EU Ambassador, who represents 28 European countries, to register the protest. “We have conveyed our condemnation of this deliberate attempt to vilify Islam. Such incidents should not go unpunished,” Foreign office spokesperson said. Pakistan’s new government had taken forth the process. During its first meeting, cabinet decided to take up the matter at bilateral level. Pakistan lodged a strong protest with the Netherlands over an announcement of holding a competition of blasphemous caricatures. “The charge d’affaires of the Kingdom of the Netherlands was summoned to the Foreign Office on August 13, and a strong protest was lodged”, Foreign office stated. Deep concern was conveyed at this deliberate and malicious attempt to defame Islam. “Pakistan’s ambassador in Hague has been instructed to forcefully raise the issue with the Dutch government along with ambassadors of OIC member states,” the Foreign Office went on to add. Foreign minister Shah Mahmud Qureshi also spoke to his Dutch counterpart. Pakistan’s permanent representatives to the United Nations in New York and Geneva were directed to take up the matter with the UN Secretary General, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights and other UN bodies and procedures. The issue would also be discussed in the forthcoming meeting of the OIC’s Council of Foreign Ministers, scheduled to be held on the side-lines of forthcoming 73rd ministerial session of the UNGA. Though the triggering issue is behind us, OIC should not lower its guards, it should firm up an action plan if any individual or government attempts such a misadventure in future. During this meeting the Muslim countries should send a loud and clear message that the despoliation of Muslim holy personalities is not acceptable to them. The silver lining is that there have been saner voices from within Dutch civil society. Demonstrations were held by Dutch nationals to show solidarity with Muslims. During March 2017, Dutch citizens gathered at a mosque in Amsterdam, to show solidarity with the country’s Muslim population. People representing a broad coalition against racism gathered at the central Al-Kabir mosque to show opposition to anti-Muslim sentiments in the country. “We as a Muslim community pose no danger whatsoever to society,” said Najem Ouladali while addressing the gathering. “We believe that what Wilders is doing is very dangerous to our society,” Ouladali added. Najem was one of the organizers of the gathering. Pakistan should continue to work closely with all the OIC member states to find a permanent solution to this recurring issue. Matter should be persistently raised at the relevant international fora until a sustainable way is found by the international community for preventing such abhorrent acts.

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