The meeting between the Indian Prime Minster Manmohan Singh and Pakistani Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani on the sidelines of the 16th SAARC summit in Thimphu recently will undoubtedly go down as one of the highlights of the summit. For far too long, SAARC summits have been hijacked by the bickering between India and Pakistan while the other six member countries - Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Nepal, Maldives and Bhutan - have been reduced to mute spectators while the two South Asian behemoths slugged it out.
The two sides have decided to resume talks and the Foreign Ministers and Foreign Secretaries of both the countries have been given the task of starting the process of talks at the earliest opportunity. Though the earlier Foreign Secretary-level talks with Pakistan in February 2010 in New Delhi ended in a whimper, hopes have been raised once more by the meeting between the two Prime Ministers in Thimphu. Indeed, India has much to lose by not talking to Pakistan.
First, the present Obama administration is too busy trying to wind down the war in Afghanistan and will definitely not rock the boat on its ties with Pakistan at this crucial stage. If India expects Obama to tighten the screws on Pakistan regarding its “support” of anti-India terrorist elements on its soil, it is barking up the wrong tree. Indeed, the days of bonhomie between the India and the US during the George Bush-era are long gone and India will have to wait at least until the Afghan war is over before expecting the US to prod Pakistan on terrorism.
Second, in the international fora, Pakistan has been making the case that India is belligerent and jingoist and not willing to sit for talks, while Pakistan has been clamouring for peace with India. Now that the process of talks has started again, India can call Pakistan’s bluff.
Third, in a recent but not related development, news reports suggest that Pakistan has moved 100,000 troops from its borders with India to boost its anti-Taliban campaign in its border regions with Afghanistan. This is a good sign as far as India is concerned, because the Taliban are a threat to India too and if Pakistan fails to deal with the Taliban, India will have to deal with them directly.
Fourth, the Afghan President Hamid Karzai seems to be cosying up to Pakistan since he knows that with the US and NATO forces moving out of Afghanistan in the not-too-distant future, he will have to deal with Pakistan, whether he likes it or not. This was made amply clear by his statement during his visit to Pakistan in March 2010 when he remarked that while India was a "close friend", Pakistan and Afghanistan are "conjoined twins".
Fifth, peace on the borders of Pakistan will allow the Indian government to devote much-needed time and resources to the problem of Maoist extremism in India, which as the Prime Minister Manmohan Singh himself acknowledged “is the gravest internal security-threat to India”. The shocking massacre of 76 CRPF men in Dantewada on April 6, 2010 only serves to underscore this fact.
Finally, if India could deal with the military dictator Pervez Musharraf in Pakistan, it should not have any qualms about dealing with a civilian Prime Minister. Indeed, after the recent signing into law of the 18th amendment bill in Pakistan, the civilian administration has grown stronger vis-à-vis the military. For the record, the bill takes away the head of the state's power to sack the prime minister and dissolve parliament.
Of course, Pakistan must act to arrest and punish people like Hafiz Saaed. But Hafiz Saaed and others of his ilk should not be allowed to dictate the course of talks and relations between India and Pakistan. If they do, India and Pakistan will be playing to their game-plan.
Peace between India and Pakistan will go a long way to keeping up the spirit of one of the key themes of this year’s SAARC summit-"towards a Green and Happy South Asia".
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