So, has New Delhi called Islamabad's bluff? The prompt and positive response of Indian external affairs minister Jaswant Singh to his Pakistani counterpart Abdul Sattar's claims that his country too had its own list of wanted persons has caught the foreign office here off guard. Belatedly, the Musharraf regime now appears to be distancing itself from the 'politics of terrorist lists' and has once again issued a strong plea for resuming the suspended dialogue.
Aziz Khan, an additional secretary at the foreign office, more or less admitted this in his last week's press conference: "We have taken note of the Indian statement but there are no details as yet of the list.
This will take time as we have to collect facts and information." Khan then tried to play down the battle of words being fought through the media. He said, "Rather than discuss these matters through diplomatic and media channels, all issues should be discussed around the table. Pakistan is always willing to take up all issues, including Jammu and Kashmir, at the table. We cannot discuss through the media several issues related to local legislation, legal matters and the issue of existence or non-existence of an extradition treaty."
There's a feeling in official circles here that Pakistan has done what it could and that the ball is now in India's court. A senior official told Outlook, "Pakistan has nothing more to do. Now India has to take the next step. There is no question of further action. Now it is for them to start taking action and through their response demonstrate to the world that they are serious about the initiation of a dialogue." In other words, Pakistan's strategy is to now harp on an Indo-Pak dialogue and focus the spotlight on the contentious issue of Kashmir.
But Sattar has been criticised for suddenly raising the issue of Pakistan's list. For instance, Gen (retd) Talat Masood, a former defence secretary, remarks sarcastically, "Why did the foreign minister bring up Pakistan's list? It is extremely important that this list is sent to New Delhi, or else it would appear India has called our bluff."
Yet, there seems to be a growing consensus in Pakistan that President Pervez Musharraf has done enough to address India's concerns on terrorism and that vacuum-cleaning the subcontinent of mafia dons and criminals has to be part of the larger process of stabilising Indo-Pak relations. Says the director general of the Institute of Strategic Studies, Dr Shireen Mazari, "If a fair assessment was made, it would appear that apart from the so-called terrorists, criminals and underworld dons exploit the hostile relations between the two countries to mock at the laws in their countries."
Mazari is reminded of the time former interior minister Gen (retd) Nasirullah Babar identified on the floor of Parliament some Mohajir Qaumi Movement workers who were involved in criminal activities in Karachi and took refuge in India. Mazari then adds, "Normally, unlike India, Pakistan doesn't make accusations unless it has adequate information. It's absurd for India to emulate the Israeli pattern and send down a list which doesn't really hold good."
Some others feel Pakistan can't possibly meet all of India's demands, that New Delhi should appreciate what Gen Musharraf has done. As Dr Tariq Rahman, professor of linguistics and South Asian studies, Qaid-e-Azam University, points out: "The boldness of Gen Musharraf's steps lies in the fact that they represent an about-turn—and not simply a change—in the policy of the Pakistani establishment, especially the intelligence services and the army itself.Of course, such boldness had to be made palatable to the Pakistani public by warning India to stay on its own side of the border and also that he would not extradite Pakistani citizens accused of crimes to India.He would, however, try them in Pakistan; if they are not Pakistani citizens, then of course a flexible approach could be followed."
But for all this, the President needs breathing time—he simply can't be perceived to be acquiescing to all of New Delhi's demands, one after another, in less than two months. Everyone agrees that there is a need to root out criminals but, as political analyst Moonis Ahmar points out, for that to happen the two countries should move from maintaining negative to positive peace. He explains, "We have seen that so far both New Delhi and Islamabad have kept negative peace despite a highly tense situation. Both governments are committed to negative peace because it ensures the maintenance of the status quo without compelling them to unleash the process of positive peace." Is that asking for too much?
Published in Outlook Express