Singh, Zardari Deserve Admiration for Détente

The leaders deserve praise for at least keeping India-Pakistan dialogue going.

President Asif Ali Zardari of Pakistan and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh of India meet in New Delhi, April 8
President Asif Ali Zardari of Pakistan and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh of India meet in New Delhi, April 8 (MEA)

The leaders of India and Pakistan are embroiled in scandals at home but can be applauded for at least keeping the dialogue between the two rivaling nations going.

Various scams have been unearthed during the most recent months of Manmohan Singh’s premiership in India. Several of his cabinet ministers are deeply involved. In Pakistan, Asif Ali Zardari is in conflict with the judiciary for allegedly siphoning off public money.

Nevertheless, their governments have kept up negotiations, particularly about trade instead of more contentious and time consuming issues like terrorism and Kashmir.

In February, India’s commerce and industry minister Anand Sharma visisted Pakistan to finalize a trade agreement with his Pakistani counterpart. As a result, integrated border checks have been set up to facilitate and increase commerce. This month, the government of India allowed Pakistani investment, albeit in limited sectors of the economy.

No unfortunatele incidents have taken place since India’s external affairs minister Somanahalli Mallaiah Krishna and his Pakistani counterpart Shah Qureshi engaged in a verbal duel on the former’s first visit to Islamabad in 2010. Hina Rabbani Khar, Pakistan’s incumbent foreign affairs minister, paid a visit to New Delhi soon after assuming her post and received a warm welcome there. The two explored the possibility of engagement on commercial instead of security issues which appears to be bearing fruit.

This month, Krishna paid his second, much anticipated second visit to the Pakistani capital, again focusing on trade issues but also hinting that Indo-Pakistani relations would not be held hostage by disputes over the 2008 Mumbai terrorist attacks which India suspects were carried out with Pakistani assistance.

The main problem in Indo-Pakistani relations is not terrorism or border disputes, rather a lack of trust and, sometimes, outright hatred between the two sides. Tension will remain, no matter how many issues are resolved, if this mutual suspicion persists. Public debate in both countries unfortunately fuels the distrust, tempting politicians to toe the line of nationalists and radicals instead of improving bilateral relations through compromise.

Changing Indian and Pakistani perceptions of their neighbors is no simply task. The relationship has been marked by conflict since independence. But it is the only way to stabilize ties for the long term. It is the responsibility of leaders in both countries to take the first steps toward peaceful coexistence.