NEW DELHI, India, May 8, Reuter: India and Pakistan, often the worst of enemies and never the best of friends, will open talks later this month to allay mutual suspicions, but few expect dramatic results.
The Home Secretaries of the two countries, their ministers’ top civil servants, meet in New Delhi on Indian charges that Pakistan is arming and training Sikh freedom fighters.
The Defence Secretaries will meet in Islamabad for talks on the disputed strategic Siachin glacier, where Indian and Pakistani troops have fought intermittent battles at an elevation of 6,000 meters.
Pakistan has denied that it is training and arming Sikh militants fighting for an independent homeland.
An Indian Home Ministry official said New Delhi had conclusive proof of such activities and that they had forced Indian security forces to fence off part of the border.
The official said the Indian government had the upper hand over the freedom fighters until last December but large scale smuggling of Chinese made AK47 assault rifles from Pakistan had upset the balance in favour of the guerrillas.
Humayun Khan, Pakistan’s ambassador to New Delhi, told Reuters: “I have to concede that in the last four or five years India has made this problem of our alleged interference in Punjab a major issue affecting the overall relationship.
“Indeed from time to time as the situation in Punjab has reached periodic crises, India has made this the stumbling block in the way of bilateral relations”.
For 40 years since Pakistan was carved out of partitioned British India to create a home for Moslems, mutual suspicion and mistrust have guided the actions of both countries.
They have fought three wars, two of them over Kashmir. The last in 1971 led to the dismemberment of Pakistan when its eastern, wedged between Indian states, became Bangladesh, home for Pakistan’s Bengali Moslems.
Ramesh Bhandari, former Indian Foreign Secretary, said recently that Pakistan’s twin ‘objectives were to continue getting military and other supplies from the United States and to keep up an antiIndian frenzy at home to justify suppression of democracy.
He said India was no interested in a confrontation and a weak and divided Pakistan would be no heIp to New Delhi.
Bhandari told Reuters there was “subconscious desire (on the part Pakistan) to take revenge for the reception that India was responsible for the breakup of Pakistan”.
“The whole question of (achiev1g) nuclear capability is an essential ingredient of their defence”, e said, adding that Pakistan’s objective was to weaken India and disturbed conditions in Punjab suit it.
Since independence in 1947, no Indian Prime Minister has made n official visit to Pakistan although in 1986 Rajiv Gandhi came close to going there.
Bhandari said the two countries mad drawn up comprehensive acts on trade and other matters out Pakistan had not hosted any of the joint commissions on trade and he visit never took place.
In 1985, for the first time, religions between the two countries appeared to be warming up.
Khan said Gandhi and President Mohammad ZiaulHaq had charted a comprehensive step by step plan, with deadlines for each, for normalizing relations in 1985 although there were many skeptics’ on ‘both sides.
“The result was when a minor disruption of schedule took place the whole thing more or less collapsed”, he added.
Since last year relations have become further strained. India has alleged that Pakistan is training Sikhs in seven or eight camps in its territory and that Pakistani security forces help militants to reach India with sophisticated arms.
Over 800 people have been killed in Punjab so far this year against 1,200 in the whole of last year.
Indian Home Ministry officials said India was feeling up its forces ‘on the land border in Punjab, providing them with advanced weapons and detection devices to stop smuggling of arms. Patrol vehicles are to be armourplated.
Rajendra Sareen, columnist and expert on Pakistan affairs, said he did not expect much from the home secretaries’ meeting as there appeared to be no political will behind it.
“They will be polite to each other. India will say Pakistan is interfering, Pakistan will say it is not”, he said, adding: “I don’t see any signal at political level on both sides which may provide a breakthrough”.
A Home Ministry source said he did not expect any dramatic developments cither.
Khan said both sides realized uneasy relations were not in their best interest and irritants in their ties were not big enough to prevent cooperation.
“The main problem is the intangible element of suspicion and mistrust which seems to pervade,
not the people of the two countries as such,” he said, “but the government and influence wielding lobbies like the media, Parliament and political parties.”
He said more open action on both sides would help. He said: “I think we know each other too well to imagine we can fool each other by saying one thing and doing another”.