A strategic partnership agreement between India and Afghanistan would ordinarily have evoked howls of protest from Pakistan which has long regarded its western neighbour as part of its sphere of influence. Islamabad has, in the past, made no secret of its displeasure at India's role in Afghanistan including a$2 billion aid effort that has won it goodwill among the Afghan people, but which Pakistan sees as New Delhi's way to expand influence.
Instead the reaction to the pact signed last month during President Hamid Karzai's visit to New Delhi, the first Kabul had done with any country, was decidedly muted. Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani said India and Afghanistan were "both sovereign countries and they have the right to do whatever they want to." The Pakistani foreign office echoed Gilani's comments, adding only that regional stability should be preserved. It cried off further comment, saying it was studying the pact.
It continued to hold discussions, meanwhile, on the grant of the Most Favoured Nation to India as part of moves to normalise ties. Late last month the cabinet cleared the MFN, 15 years after New Delhi accorded Pakistan the same status so that the two could conduct trade like nations do around the world, even those with differences.
And on Thursday, Gilani met Indian counterpart Manmohan Singh on the margins of a regional summit in the Maldives and the two promised a new chapter in ties, saying the next round of talks between officials as part of an engagement on a range of issues will produce results. Afghanistan or the pact, was scarcely mentioned in public, although it is quite conceivable that the two would have talked about it.
Is there a shift in the ground, in both India and Pakistan ? Pakistan is battling multiple crises, including ties with the United States that at the moment certainly look worse than those with India. It is also struggling to tackle a melange of militant groups that have metastasized into a mortal danger for the Pakistani state itself and a deep economic downturn that a nation of 180 million people can ill-afford at this time. While it continues to invest time and energy in Afghanistan, a large part of the war has come home too and it is struggling to enforce its writ on its side of the Pasthun-dominated lands that straddle the two countries. A lessening of tensions with India can only help at this point.