Thaw in India-Pakistan ties?

NAM summit in Egyptian resort may be upstaged by Delhi-Islamabad talks.

Gilani is hoping for more open dialogue with his Indian counterpart in Egypt [AFP]

Although the Non-Aligned Movement (Nam) summit at the Egyptian Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheikh has been convened to discuss the current global economic downturn, it is an informal meeting on the sidelines between Indian and Pakistani leaders that is likely to steal the show.

The theme of the 15th Nam summit is “International Solidarity for Peace and Development” and the official document says the meetings “will focus on ways to reactivate Nam in the current world situation”.

The term “non-alignment” was coined by Jawaharlal Nehru, a former Indian prime minister and founding member in 1955. He was establishing a policy guideline for member states to avoid alignment with major powers, chiefly the US and the Soviet Union.

Straying from principles

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It was India and Pakistan which first strayed from Nam’s founding principles when they aligned themselves the Soviet Union and US, respectively.

Nam was struck further blows when member states like India and Pakistan as well as Iraq and Iran were involved in either warm or cold conflicts, gnawing at the ideals of non-alignment and mutual non-aggression.

The movement suffered from these and other internal contradictions with the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979 proving to be the catalyst which did away with any semblance of unity and purpose in the organisation.

While Soviet allies predictably, supported the invasion, other members – particularly, the majority of Islamic states – opposed it. Given that Nam was formed largely as a bid to thwart the Cold War, it has struggled to find relevance since the Cold War ended.

Talk, no action

However, Nam is likely to be relevant only in that provides a venue for world leaders to meet on the sidelines.

The media in both India and Pakistan, for example, has high expectations of the meeting between the countries’ two prime ministers especially because of a gaffe last month.

Manmohan Singh, the Indian prime minister, has been going to great pains to explain he had not meant to offend Asif Zardari, the Pakistani president, last month when the two met in Russia.

Singh has pressed Pakistan’s leaders to crack down on armed groups on its soil [Getty]

Singh had apparently embarrassed the Pakistani president by saying in the presence of the media that he had a one-point mandate “to ensure that Islamabad does not use its soil for terrorism in India”.

Zardari was so annoyed that he decided to skip the Sharm el-Sheikh meeting and send his prime minister instead.

“I simply forgot that the media were present there. It was not my intention in anyway to hurt Zardari Sahib’s feelings,” Singh said on his way back from the G8 summit in Rome last week.

In the last week, Indian and Pakistani officials have been engaged behind-the-scenes to make for a good Sharm el-Sheikh rendezvous.

The general expectation is that it may lead to the resumption of a “composite dialogue” which had been stalled by the Mumbai terror attacks in November last year.

The Pakistani camp, however, appeared less sure after last night’s meeting of foreign secretaries amid speculation that only a road map, rather than the resumption of a stalled composite dialogue, would be on the agenda.

Khurshid Kasuri, the former Pakistani foreign minister, who played a pivotal role in bringing the two nations together in the Musharraf-Vajpayee era, said in a recent TV interview that he expected the peace process to resume soon.

The menu

Salman Bashir, Pakistan’s foreign secretary, took up crucial issues with Shivshankar Menon, his counterpart, during a post-dinner meeting on Tuesday night. This is expected to pave the way for prime ministerial talks.

The unofficial word from the Pakistani camp on Tuesday night was that India wanted terrorism to be the central issue but that Yusuf Gilani, Pakistan’s prime minister, would push Singh for a more open dialogue when they meet on Thursday.

Islamabad has made significant overtures to address Indian concerns; Rehman Malik, the Pakistani interior minister, said his country  had gone “the extra mile” to conduct its own investigation of the Mumbai terror attacks.

The suspects, the mastermind of the Mumbai attacks, are expected to go on trial this week.

“We are approaching these talks [at Sharm el-Sheik] with an open mind and a positive attitude because we believe that only through a positive attitude can we resolve the problems,” Abdul Basit, the Pakistani foreign office spokesman, said at a weekly news briefing this week.

Cricket catalyst
One of the peace dividends that millions on either side of the divide are hoping for is a resumption of cricket ties. Shaharyar Khan, a renowned Pakistani diplomat and the former chairman of the Pakistan Cricket Board, thinks it could act as a catalyst for better ties.

“It has often been a case of two steps forward and one (or two) steps back in the peace process,” Khan wrote in his latest work Shadows Across The Playing Field, co-authored with Shashi Tharoor, India’s minister of state for external affairs.
“The Mumbai terrorist attack must be seen as part of the same syndrome. I am convinced that cricket will again provide the catalyst to bring about harmony, tolerance and good neighbourly relations.”

Cricket rivalry between India and Pakistan could be a catalyst for improving ties [GETTY]

And Singh might just reciprocate by opening a new chapter in relations. Singh is confident enough after his party won recent elections and after Islamabad addressed Delhi’s major security concerns in lieu of the Mumbai attacks.

Hillary Clinton, the US secretary of state, is due to visit to India next week and will likely express Washington’s keen interest in having the dialogue resume to ease Pakistan’s concerns along its eastern border with India.

This would allow it to focus on fighting the Taliban on its western border with Afghanistan.

Whether a fresh attempt at rekindling Indo-Pak ties materialises or not, for Indians and Pakistanis at least, it appears the relevance of the non-aligned movement is just a throw away into the Red Sea.

The writer is a former Pakistani newspaper editor and columnist.

The views expressed in the above column are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect those of Al Jazeera.

Source: Al Jazeera

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