“In 1947, India and Pakistan were born to conflict.” This is the first line on the flap and gist of Stanley Wolpert’s most recent book, India-Pakistan: Continued Conflict or Cooperation (2010). His assessment is correct because these two countries have a jeremiad of problems.
They have failed to resolve even a single contentious issue between them since independence. It’s not that they haven’t tried to sort out their problems but their structured diplomacy has failed to achieve any breakthroughs.
To improve the relationship, there needs to be a significant change in attitude. There appears to be the will on the part of both civilian governments to see this change through.
Whereas diplomacy used to be conducted behind closed doors, there is an effort today to engage the peoples of both nations. This form of engagement is visible at the highest levels of policy making where the leaders of India and Pakistan have met on the sidelines of multilateral summits and cricket matches.
Pakistani president Asif Ali Zardari’s visit to India this weekend was of such an informal nature but he did have lunch with India’s prime minister, Manmohan Singh. Last month, Singh met with Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani during the Nuclear Security Summit in Seoul, South Korea.
During their luncheon, Singh offered technical assistance to retrieve the remains of the Pakistani soldiers who, on the morning of Zardari’s visit to India, perished in an avalanche on the Siachen Glacier, east of the Line of Control in Kashmir.
India and Pakistan have held many talks about the demilitarization of Siachen but nothing has yet come of this dialogue.
Singh also raised the issue of Hafiz Muhammad Saeed whom India considers to be the brain behind the 2008 Mumbai terror attacks. He earlier declared a “water jihad” against India and has terrorized his own people for seeking rapprochement with their neighboring state.
India and the United States have both asked for Hafiz Saeed’s extradition. Many in Pakistan consider this an affront to their sovereignty. The issue is not whether or not he should be handed over to another country however; the concern is the militant system which he runs.
No progress was made on either of these issues on Sunday but at least the leaders talked. Such a continued dialogue is needed to contain minor incidents and keep the border calm.