Failed Pakistan-India talks could hurt Afghanistan efforts

McClatchy NewspapersJuly 16, 2010 

ISLAMABAD — Recriminations flew between India and Pakistan on Friday, a day after failed peace talks that could have negative fallout for the U.S.-led military campaign in Afghanistan.

Pakistan charged that India had scuttled the talks by refusing to discuss anything but terrorism allegations against Pakistan, while India said that was the key issue between the countries.

The two nuclear-armed nations, which have fought three wars in the past, have been in a tense standoff since the 2008 terrorist attack by a Pakistan-based extremist group on the Indian city of Mumbai, in which more 160 people were killed. Today, analysts and officials say that India and Pakistan effectively are contesting a proxy war in Afghanistan.

The United States has tried to push the two neighbors, both U.S. allies, to mend relations, but India wants to focus on terrorism, while Pakistan insists that territorial disputes between the countries be on the agenda. On the eve of the talks, a senior Indian official, G.K. Pillai, accused Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence spy service of "controlling and coordinating" the Mumbai attack.

Many think that there'll be no stability in Afghanistan until Pakistan and India stop playing out their decades-long rivalry there, with Pakistan giving sanctuary and support to the mainly Pashtun Taliban and India supporting the largely non-Pashtun Northern Alliance.

"The Afghanistan proxy-war situation will continue. It may even intensify," said Hasan Askari Rizvi, a political analyst based in the eastern Pakistani city of Lahore. "In the long term, Pakistan has the upper hand (in Afghanistan). It has stronger links. All the Taliban factions, the Haqqani group (an insurgent faction), are opposed to India."

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Dashing high expectations, Thursday's talks in Islamabad between the Indian and Pakistani foreign ministers ended with no announcement of progress except a commitment to meet again. Friday, Pakistan's foreign minister, Shah Mahmood Qureshi, launched an undiplomatic attack on S.M. Krishna, his Indian counterpart, and New Delhi's negotiating position. Qureshi's comments came while Krishna was still on Pakistani soil, making them more provocative.

"Pakistan is ready for talks," Qureshi said in Islamabad. "(But) it will be hard to go on if India only wants to discuss the modalities of issues. ... All issues have to be on the table and you have to discuss them."

Historically, the biggest quarrel between India and Pakistan has been over the mainly Muslim Himalayan region of Kashmir, and there's a related dispute over the ownership of the Siachen glacier. More recently, India thinks that Pakistan is sponsoring Muslim terrorist groups in the part of Kashmir that's in Indian hands and elsewhere in the country.

Qureshi said he'd hoped to agree on a "road map" for engagement, but India wasn't willing to sign up to it, especially after Krishna received some mysterious phone calls from New Delhi.

According to a Pakistani official, who spoke only on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue, the two foreign ministers had reached consensus on the road map Wednesday evening in informal discussions before the formal talks. On Thursday, however, the Indian side backed out after communicating with Delhi, the official said.

"In the one-on-one session, they agreed on a road map that was balanced. They had certain ideas, we had certain ideas, they jelled," the official said. "We conceded on terrorism; they conceded on Kashmir, Siachen. But then they backtracked, telling us (the next day) they didn't have the mandate to agree to this."

On landing in Delhi on Friday, Krishna denied that he'd taken calls during the talks and called the charge "an extraordinary statement."

"We told them that terrorism is the biggest obstacle to normalizing relations between India and Pakistan," he said.

Separately, Human Rights Watch, an international advocacy group, accused the Pakistanl army of extrajudicial killings of suspected extremists in the northwestern Swat valley. The group said it had confirmed 50 such cases but had heard of 238 "suspicious killings" altogether. The Pakistani army wrested back control of Swat from the Pakistani Taliban last summer.

Human Rights Watch called on the U.S. to investigate the possible culpability of individual Pakistani military units that are receiving American military aid and to take "appropriate action" for alleged abuses in Swat.

"Civilians already enduring Taliban abuses should not have their misery compounded by the military's behavior," said Ali Dayan Hasan, senior South Asia researcher at Human Rights Watch. "Pakistan's allies need to press the country's military to ease the suffering of the people of Swat, not exacerbate it."

A spokesman for the Pakistani military wasn't available for comment, but in the past it's rejected allegations of arbitrary executions in Swat after it recaptured the territory.

(Shah is a McClatchy special correspondent.)

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