Thursday, October 22, 2009

India-Pakistan: Repairing relations

Parjanya Bhatt

THERE is never a dull moment in the India-Pakistan relationship. Be it the recent meeting of the foreign ministers of the two countries in New York, cross-border terror issues or the exchange of terror dossiers. Or on the lighter side, on the cricket field where happy cricket fans from both sides cheer for their respective teams. And Pakistan’s well-known love for Indian movies, food and societal freedom. And how can I forget to mention the soaring temperature on the Wagah border with citizens from both the sides chanting ‘Hindustan Zindabad’ and ‘Pakistan Zindabad’.
Bilateral relations between the two countries nosedived after the 2008 Mumbai terror attack that left over 160 innocent civilians dead. India suspended the composite dialogue. But now, the two sides are busy mending their relations once again. Since the Mumbai terror attack Pakistan has been under pressure to act against the terror groups, and after the diplomatic disaster in Sharm-al-Sheikh over Balochistan, India is applying caution. Indian foreign minister, S M Krishna and Pakistan foreign minister, Shah Mehmood Qureshi met in New York last month on the sidelines of the annual UN General Assembly, but stopped short of announcing any breakthrough. The two sides need more interaction on a diplomatic level, as well as between citizens.
Given the turbulent history of relations between India and Pakistan, it is still a positive step forward from both the sides. But India wants concrete action to be taken against the masterminds of the Mumbai terror attack. Pakistan PM Yousuf Raza Gilani, during his meeting in Egypt with Indian PM Manmohan Singh said, “Pakistan will do everything in its power to bring the perpetrators of the Mumbai attack to justice.” So far there are mixed signals about Pakistan’s seriousness in bringing the Mumbai terror accused to justice. Court order preventing the media coverage of the trial is making the issue murky and casting shadow over Pakistan’s seriousness in tackling India-centric terror activities of the home grown terror groups. As this article is being written, in a recent development the anti-terror court in Pakistan has adjourned the trial until October 10, which probably won’t be well received by the Indian establishment. India has high expectations from Pakistan with respect to action against the terror groups. Any action for action’s sake from Pakistan could put the already fragile relations between the two in serious jeopardy.
The United States has asked Pakistan to bring the culprits of the Mumbai massacre to justice as soon as possible, adding that they would always encourage talks between India and Pakistan to ensure peace in the region. In reality, however, we have to bear in mind that American interest across the border in Afghanistan would be in danger if tension on Pakistan’s eastern border with India rises. The Obama administration understands the importance of the peaceful relations between India and Pakistan. But the contentious issues of cross border terrorism and Kashmir will always remain centre stage for any positive and progressive dialogue between the two sides. The issue of Kashmir should be left to the two sides and the two Kashmirs. No American intervention should be entertained. But as far as cross border terror is concerned it is the duty of the international community, the nations involved (sponsors and victims) and the flag bearer of the war on terror to take the lead.
The geographical division of ‘Hindustan’ into India and Pakistan in 1947 has failed to create total divide in the hearts and minds of people on both sides. Bilateral relations between the two Asian nuclear neighbours may remain severely strained after the Mumbai terror attack, but Pakistani cricket fans here in Manchester cheer for their team with Hindi movie songs being played in the background. And Indian cricket fans applaud their team with Halal, Shorma and Kababs being served to them in Pakistani restaurants. What kind of divide are the media and two governments talking about? Pakistani couples often spotted fighting in stores in Manchester over which Indian pickle to buy; Bombay, Gujarat or Maharashtra pickle? The question should be put to the diplomats and policy makers from both sides; will the two governments stop its citizens from sharing their culture?
Civil society organizations and cultural links have grown, and sports ties – particularly in cricket – have generated substantial goodwill and understanding. Cultural exchange between the people of two sides can help make it just ‘lines on the map’. But on a larger scale ties between the two Asian rivals will not be easily improved, in light of the continued cross border terror attacks.

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