Cynicism in both India and Pakistan after talks

By Robert Birsel

ISLAMABAD (BestGrowthStock) – Commentators in both India and Pakistan greeted on Friday the first official talks between their countries since the 2008 Mumbai attacks with a degree of cynicism even though no breakthrough had been expected.

The two nations’ top diplomats met in a former princely palace in a heavily guarded New Delhi neighborhood on Thursday and agreed to “remain in touch” to build trust.

But India, intent on keeping the focus on Pakistani efforts to tackle Islamist militants who attack into India, ruled out a resumption of a broad “composite dialogue” on all issues, including their decades old dispute over the Kashmir region.

India’s Hindustan Times newspaper carried a headline reading: “India, Pak dialogue: new round, old story”. Pakistan’s Nation newspaper said: “Meaningless talks end in meaningless way”.

Neither diplomat said if there would be another round of talks though their prime ministers have an opportunity to meet at a regional summit in Bhutan in April.

Expectations had been modest.

India broke off a tentative four-year-old peace process after the Mumbai attacks, saying dialogue could resume only if Pakistan acted against militants on its soil.

India blamed the attacks, which killed 166 people, on Pakistan-based militants.

Pakistan, facing its own surge of Islamist violence, says it has taken steps to fight the militants. Talks with India should not be held hostage to “non-state actors” but should be resumed on all outstanding problems, it says.

“It was a bit disappointing that they couldn’t make much headway,” said former Pakistani foreign minister Khursheed Mehmood Kasuri.

“But on the other hand, that they decided to break the log-jam after a gap of about 15 months is a bit of progress and I hope the two prime ministers would meet in Bhutan.”

“NEITHER SUCCESS NOR FAILURE”

Siddharth Varadarajan, strategic affairs editor at India’s Hindu newspaper, said in a commentary that the talks had served their purpose of opening a path for a new process of engagement.

“When Mr. Bashir told reporters the meeting was neither a success nor a failure, he was stating the obvious,” Varadarajan said, referring to Pakistani foreign secretary Salman Bashir.

“‘Success’ for the Indians would have meant having their concerns on terrorism fully addressed, while for the Pakistanis it would have meant resumption of the composite dialogue.”

The United States wants to see ties improve between the nuclear-armed neighbors, who have fought three wars since 1947, so Pakistan can focus on fighting militants on its Afghan border.

U.S. State Department spokesman Philip Crowley said in Washington the two countries had taken “a courageous step to open the door to dialogue” and he hoped it would be built on.

Re-engaging Pakistan was a politically fraught move for India, given strong public opinion against talks, but a nudge from Washington and dwindling diplomatic options saw India reaching out.

Pakistan’s civilian government also has domestic critics watching for any signs of weakness in the face of perceived Indian intransigence.

“For Pakistan, it would be difficult for any government to accept an arrangement in which you put yourself on a uni-focal leash set by India,” said former Pakistani foreign secretary Shamshad Ahmed Khan.

The conservative Nation newspaper said Pakistan should refuse any offer of more talks unless they cover the real conflicts, especially the “core issue” of Kashmir.

Khan said Pakistan should not fret.

“Pakistan shouldn’t be losing any sleep if India is not ready for dialogue,” he said. “Let India make up its mind, and whenever it is ready, Pakistan should remain always open for dialogue.”

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(Additional reporting by Matthias Williams in NEW DELHI; Editing by Sugita Katyal)

Cynicism in both India and Pakistan after talks