On Another Upswing by Dr. Mohammad Manzoor Alam (NOVEMBER 14, 2011)

Dr Mohammad Manzoor Alam’s take on the thaw in India-Pakistan relations.

A second marriage, it is wisely said, is the victory of hope over experience. The thaw in India-Pakistan’s icy relations is like a second marriage, which is always contracted in the hope that it would be a better union than the bitterness-filled, horrible experience of the first marriage.

There are too many bitter memories from the past to allow either of the two parties to hope that this time round it will not get too hot to handle, like the three Indo-Pak wars of the past (not counting Kargil as one).

Of course, we are looking at the issue from the Indian perspective. You will have to talk to a Pakistani journalist to know that they hold us responsible for every imaginable crime: creation of Bangladesh, disturbances in Sind, Balochistan and the Frontier Province; bomb blasts in Karachi; troubles with Mohajirs. Added to that is India’s profile in Afghanistan, blasts in Samjhauta Express going to Pakistan and, of course, the old staple–Kashmir.

On our side, the most serious issue is the trans-border terrorism sourced from Pakistan. This has the potential of a full-blown war between the two nuclear-armed neighbours. It is only in Pakistan’s interests to curb such activity as it cannot only trigger a limited nuclear war with the neighbour, but also give an excuse for hostile outside powers to launch attacks on Pakistan under false pretexts.

Now, coming down to the brighter aspects of the relations that began to get warmer shortly before the SAARC meet in Maldives. It is good for the whole organisation because sour relations between these two powerful neighbours casts a cloud of hopelessness on it, making it virtually meaningless.

In diplomacy, language and gesture are as important as substance and treaty. The Pakistanis did well to move forward with a Most Favoured Nation status for India. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh reciprocated by publicly declaring Mr Yousaf Raza Gilani, his Pakistani counterpart, as “a man of peace.”

From there began a journey towards the attainment of substance. One of the helpful moves for better economic ties is the decision of the two sides to dismantle barriers to trade. Particularly worth mention are the non-tariff trade barriers.

Inexperienced TV journalists have been shouting themselves silly over the supposed meaninglessness of the latest moves. Their argument is that the terror question has to be worked out first before moving on to any other front. That is not a sound argument.

In the past, countries hostile to each other have worked out a modus vivendi by working on the solution to relatively peripheral issues. By gaining enough experience and confidence with the solution to marginal issues, they have been able to create enough goodwill to avoid war and gain time for working on the more vexatious issues.

It seems, for a while the Pakistanis have decided not to insist too much on the K issue and India has tried to provisionally accept that not all terrorist groups in Pakistan (like those that attack their military and their cities) are fully under their control.

There is still the issue of having a stake in Afghanistan to be worked out between India and Pakistan (particularly after the Americans go home). And, of course, the old K word.

All things considered, we welcome the latest move by the two countries and hope and pray that the efforts will not go up in smoke anytime soon.


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