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Indo-Pak talks

Let's talk business

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Top diplomats from India and Pakistan are spending yet another summer going over the familiar territory of bilateral ties, hoping for some light at the end of the tunnel. But how can either side hope to achieve a new outcome, when the steps taken remain the same? Earlier this used to be called "composite dialogue", now we call it "resumed" dialogue. But it's still the same old talk shop.

Jalil Jilani, Pakistan's foreign secretary, lands in India with warm words. What's the first thing he does? He sits down for tea with the Hurriyat separatists from Kashmir - Geelani, Mirwaiz and other members of the tired lot. In 2003, the same Jilani did Pakistan proud when, as deputy high commissioner in Delhi, he declared his support for the same separatists by allegedly funnelling funds to them.

But the separatist narrative has changed in the interim years. The Hurriyat has been discredited time and again, certainly diminished by the disclosures that their lifestyles are "maintained" by non-Indian interests to put it delicately.

Meanwhile, Kashmir is having one of its best tourist seasons ever. The average Kashmiri has many complaints against the Indian state, just like people from other states of India. They are not running to the Hurriyat to help them solve those problems.

There remains a sense of alienation in Kashmir and the Indian government, as with much else, does a lousy job of addressing it. That has not changed much - we have an independent interlocutors' report to prove it - and neither has Pakistan's dependence on these tired men. Pakistani leaders keep them flush and feeling vaguely important. If these signals are the same as they have been for years, what are the Jammu & Kashmir talks about?

There is an agreement, the t's crossed and the i's dotted, on Kashmir hammered out through what is popularly known as the "back channel". Without shifting sovereignty, Satinder Lambah and Tariq Aziz have worked out an understanding that could be a solution. Could this be moved out of the back channel and debated among the officials? It is said that Pakistan army chief General Ashraf Kayani has refused to bless this agreement. So this cannot be discussed. We've all said everything there is to say on LoC border crossings, trade points and so on.

Pakistan will not do the Sir Creek agreement, which too is "done". It might help India. If India really wants it, let there be a Siachen agreement instead - this is the thinking in Rawalpindi. But India will not do a Siachen agreement the way Pakistan wants it to. In another few years, some enterprising Gujarati will find shale oil in the marshes and that will be the end of discussions. Siachen should actually be made part of an overall Kashmir agreement, but since nobody thought of that earlier, nobody bothered to rejig the dialogue. India has lowered the cost of Siachen, Pakistan doesn't have Siachen. The conversation remains what it always was - a dialogue of the deaf.

Even the discussions on terrorism remain the same. India asks Pakistan to prosecute Hafiz Saeed and a rogues gallery of really bad eggs. Pakistan hangs on to them for dear life, believing they will one day again come in handy against India. P Chidambaram has a slanging match with Rehman Malik on whether Pakistan trained Abu Jundal or not.

Chidambaram wants Malik to "admit" that Pakistan supports terror. What legal, political or counter-terror step would that be? It should be noted that after Clinton's "sorry", Pakistan's decision to open the Nato supply lines to Afghanistan was met by silence from Hafiz Saeed and his ilk. If this isn't an example of the state using terrorists, what is? Chidambaram really should not be asking for another "admission. "

So far, the only constructive conversation is about economics and trade - about India selling power and Pakistan allowing wheat to go to Afghanistan through the Karachi port. About opening up of bilateral trade, buying of cement from Pakistan and tomatoes from India. Having Pakistan companies working here or working with Indian companies in Afghanistan. These are valuable conversations. They affect - for the better - lives of ordinary Pakistanis and Indians. That's a darn sight better than whether the boundary line should run through mid-channel or on the eastern bank of a marshy creek.

Let's rework the India-Pak dialogue and let's only talk business and visas. The rest can be "managed" until the world feels more comfortable for Pakistan.

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