(The following comments have been sent by me at the request of "The Times of India")
Any improvement in Indo-Pakistan relations is not going to come as a result of two newspaper groups of the two countries taking the initiative in drawing attention to their common heritage and providing additional channels for increased people-to-people contacts.
2.It will come as a result of policy-making circles in the two countries realizing that the policies followed hitherto have reached a dead-end and, hence, there is a need for fresh-thinking. There is a need for greater interactions----formal and informal--- between the policy-makers of the two countries to pick each other’s brains and explore new options for the future. Such interactions should not be confined to the narrow framework of a formal dialogue, which has been in a state of suspension since 26/11 of 2008.
3.Regular interactions at policy-making ---civilian and military--- levels to understand each other’s perceptions and to remove misperceptions have been absent for nearly two decades. These interactions have to be resumed and expanded. Periodic exchanges of visits by political leaders, military officers, security officials and other civilian functionaries help them in knowing of each other in flesh and blood instead of only through media and often uncorroborated source reports.
4.Had there been the practice of senior Army officers of the two countries exchanging periodic visits, some of the recent comments of our Army chief, which have been criticized in Pakistan, could have been discussed and clarified behind the glare of publicity.
5.We have such interactions with China, but not with Pakistan. This absence of inter-personal interactions at leadership and policy-making levels between India and Pakistan has largely contributed to the failure of the two countries to make any forward movement on any issue.
6.Sitting in their respective offices in New Delhi and Islamabad, the policy-makers have become bereft of any new ideas as to how to get out of the present rut. The initiative for restoring and expanding inter-personal interactions at leadership and policy-making levels has to come from governmental circles in the two countries.
7.The role of non-governmental facilitators in such an exercise would be in educating public opinion on the need for such interactions so that the leadership does not have to fear any adverse public fall-out of the exercise.
8.The media has an important and serious role to play in encouraging new thinking and policy changes. If the TOI group had done it independently on its own, its efforts would have carried greater credibility and its motives might not have been questioned.
9.The TOI’s action in joining hands with a controversial and highly politicized media group of Pakistan, which was in the forefront of a high-profile campaign to drive out President Asif Ali Zardari from power, has robbed it of much-needed credibility. (11-1-10)
( The writer is Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt. of India, New Delhi)