Since May 2002, five gatekeepers’ roundtables have been held on the India-Pakistan engagement, organised by Panos South Asia and Himal Southasian. These started with the understanding that rapprochement between New Delhi and Islamabad is all-important for a safe, secure and prosperous Southasia, and have subsequently addressed a series of critical bilateral topics between the two antagonists. The reports on the discussions, all of which have been printed in past issues of this magazine, are a barometer of the changing times and moods. We notice in them that, even amidst continuing domestic and international challenges, there is a permanent place for reasoned debate and mature deliberation in the India-Pakistan dialogue. The fifth and latest roundtable was held on 11-12 November 2006 in Cairo. Under the theme “Are India and Pakistan really in control of the situation?”, the meeting discussed the following issues:
- Internal factors in India influencing relations with Pakistan, including issues related to political equations, vote banks, radical groups, popular will, militancy and so on.
- Internal factors in Pakistan influencing relations with India, including the role of the military, radical groups, political factors, popular will, militancy and so on.
- External influences on bilateral relations vis-à-vis Pakistan, including the ‘US factor’, the West’s positioning and the Islamic world, energy needs, the role of China and so on.
- External influences on bilateral relations vis-à-vis India, including the ‘US factor’, energy needs, the role of China and so on.
The discussants at Cairo were as follows. From India: Shahid Siddiqui, MP and General Secretary of the Samajwadi Party; Salman Haidar, former Foreign Secretary of India; A S Panneerselvan, Executive Director, Panos South Asia; Bharat Bhushan, Editor, The Telegraph; Madhuker Upadhyay, Editor, Lokmat Samachar; N Ram, Executive Editor, The Hindu; Ranjan Roy, Editor, Times News Network. From Pakistan: Tasneem Noorani, former Interior and Commerce Secretary for Pakistan; Aitzaz Ahsan, former Interior Minister, lawyer, author, from the Pakistan People’s Party; Hameed Haroun, CEO, the Dawn Group of Publications; Talat Hussain, News Editor, Aaj TV; Mujibur Rehman Shami, Editor, Daily Pakistan; Shaheen Salahuddin, Editor, Indus TV; Aslam Kazi, Publisher, Daily Kawish and Chairman, KTN channel. As in the previous four meetings, the Cairo roundtable was moderated by Kanak Mani Dixit, editor of Himal Southasian. Within the given theme – whether or not the governments of India and Pakistan were in any position to guide the evolution of the bilateral relationship amidst competing and ever-changing internal and external pressures – the participants of the Cairo roundtable engaged in two days of intense and free-ranging discussion. What we present here is a summary of key presentations made extempore by participants, which provided grist for vigorous debate.