Pakistan President Asif Ali Zardari’s visit to India and later, Pakistan Army Chief’s General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani’s plea for demilitarisation of Siachen have been received with as much scepticism as hope, by the Indian media. Obviously, there is a great deal of trust deficit. The Free Press Journal (4 April) for instance, sharply pointed out that “we have suffered enough to trust that nation (Pakistan) again.”. It said that any attempt to read more into that luncheon (given by India’s Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh to President Zardari) meeting will be a mistake”. Pointing out that Zardari is only “a figurehead whose writ does not go beyond the four walls of the Presidential mansion” the paper said that “so long as the Pakistan Army continues to perceive India as its enemy, ceremonial figures such as Asif Ali Zardari can do precious little to advance the cause of peace and good neighbourliness between the two countries”. So, concluded the paper, “let us not go overboard merely because Zardari is stepping over in New Delhi” considering “there is hardly any prospect of an incremental approach succeeding in the Indo-Pak context”.
The Times of India (20 April) was more optimistic. “It is heartening” said the paper, that General Kayani has called “for peaceful co-existence and the resolution of all issues between the two countries, starting with Siachen”. It said that coming after Zardari’s visit to India, “Kayani’s comments are particularly relevant” and “is an indication that the military may be backing Zardari’s moves”. Stating that Kayani had done well to acknowledge… that over-spending on defence hurts the cause of development in both India and Pakistan, the paper said that the two countries “must also move quickly on easily soluble problems such as Siachen and Sir Creek, paving the way for the big one: Kashmir”. Maintaining that India is “not an irredentist state”, the paper concluded by saying that “the sooner a basic level of trust… can be built, the earlier we can move towards putting behind us the poisoned legacy of Partition”.
Hindustan Times (20 April) thought that in calling for the demilitarisation of the Siachen glacier, Gen. Kayani “did not say anything new”. India controlled the commanding heights of the glacier and could better afford the cost of maintaining its position there. India had the upper hand and is less enthusiastic about a mutual pull-out. Yet, said the paper, “politically, a Siachen agreement would be a wonderful fillip to the Indo-Pakistan peace process. “With his speech” said the paper, “Gen Kayani has publicly endorsed the Indo-Pakistan peace process once again”. The paper felt that Kayani’s own statements indicated that he is talking up relations with India because he believes the cost of non-accomodation is simply too high for his country to bear right now, besides which engagement with India had become “a tactical” necessity, “strengthening a sense among Pakistanis in general that being stranged from India does not serve their country”.
The Asian Age (21 April) was pessimistic. Considering that the Pakistan Army’s “formal doctrine” has always been “to fight India” said the paper, Gen. Kayani’s recent remarks “should be discounted”. His “dove-like remarks”, the paper continued, will mean something only “if he takes his forces back to the barracks”. Once that happened” the paper said, “and the politicians have well and truly taken over from the men in uniform, the idea of ‘peaceful co-existence’ that the general spoke of can be meaningfully pursued”. But for now, the paper added, “it is a hard to get away from the fact that the Pakistan Army’s formal doctrine is to fight India”.
The New Indian Express (21 April) warned India not to buy peace at the cost of national security. It pointed out the remark made by Pakistan’s Foreign Office spokesman, Moazzam Ali Khan who said there is no change in Pakistan’s policy on the Siachen issue with India and has no plans to redeploy its troops from the glacier. Noting that this is not the first time Pakistan leaders have changed track without any explanation, the paper also reminded its readers that once Pakistan had announced that it was willing to give India the Most Favoured Nation status but had later went back on its words. “This only shows” said the paper, “that India should not take public postures of Pakistan leaders at their face value”. There were sections in Pakistan that were violently opposed to seeking peace with India. “Unless Islamabad takes tangible and convincing action to address our concerns about sponsorship of cross-border terrorism from its soil, moves like allowing foreign direct investment from Pakistan will not boost Indian economy.”
Economic Times (11 April) said that “now there is an excellent chance to bind relations between the two nations with the strongest adhesive of all: commerce.“ Noting that “Pakistan’s military, always a key player in its system is probably at its weakest position in decades” now, the paper said “We believe that this is the best time to push our trade relations to the forefront of diplomacy”. The paper said: “America, Pakistan’s principal ally is deeply resentful and suspicious of the Military-Intelligence complex. A weaker military is good news for democracy in Pakistan. Growing prosperity will strengthen Pakistan’s civil institutions”. Mainstream (April 13) said that “the outcome of the India-Pakistan summit meeting in Delhi on April 8 has offered a new ray of hope in restoring the bilateral cooperative relationship”. The Leftist weekly said in this context “immediate attention must be given to the concept of a liberalised visa regime” which would “go a long way in consolidating the moves made by Islamabad to enhance bilateral trade”. Furthermore, it said that for Islamabad to satisfy India’s insistence on curbing terrorism, “it would be necessary to hold direct dialogue between military personnel and civilian administrators of both countries so as to help reduce the trust deficit plaguing India-Pakistan ties for long years”.
A defence analyst, Gurmeet Kanwal, writing in The Times of India (22 April) said “the demilitarisation of Siachen will act as a confidence building measure of immense importance”, noting that “for India, it is a low-risk option to test Pakistan’s long-term intentions”. “It is, therefore, an idea whose time has come” Mr Kanwal concluded. But reading the large media one gets the impression that our thinkers are chary of Pakistan and tend to take Gen. Kayani’s pleas with a noticeable bit of salt.