A chance for India and Pakistan to step back

August 1, 2008

The leaders of India and Pakistan have a chance this weekend to stop things from spinning out of control when they gather in Colombo for a summit of South Asian nations.

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The mood has decidedly turned sour in India, especially after the bombing of its embassy in Kabul which the Indians, the Afghans and now the Americans – according to a report in the New York Times- have blamed on Pakistan’s powerful Inter-Services Intelligence. Attacks in Bangalore and Ahmedabad, a day apart, and then the most serious eruption of gunfire across the Line of Control in Kashmir since a 2003 truce have further increased concern that a four-year peace process is rapidly coming apart.

Pakistan, hemmed in by an increasingly restive American force on its doorstep over the border in Afghanistan, and militant groups chafing within, has its own and perhaps even more serious set of problems. On Thursday a bomb went off outside its consulate in the western Afghan city of Herat,  and you begin to wonder if the foes have turned Afghanistan into a full-blown proxy battleground 
like it was during the Cold War between the former Soviet Union and the United States.

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In a sign of the chill that has crept back into the relationship, the two sides even delayed an announcement of a meeting between Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and his Pakistani counterpart Yousaf Raza Gilani in Colombo, which is the custom at the annual summits of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation, and which invariably overshadows the conference.
 
But meet they will, say most analysts and editorialists,  if nothing else to stop a further slide in ties. For all the outrage in India over the bombing in Kabul followed by the impersonal, indiscriminate and savage attacks in Bangalore and Ahmedabad, there isn’t an appetite for ratcheting of tensions with Pakistan.

There should be even less so in Pakistan, as it grapples with even bigger threats on its western borders with the Americans threatening to go after al Qaeda and Taliban, if its fails to do so, with or without permission from Islamabad.

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