Given the history of India and Pakistan, it is easy to be sceptical about the chances of their latest peace initiative. So let’s start with the positives.
It was so long in the making, so utterly predictable, that the news that Pakistan and India are now arguing over water carries with it the dull ache of inevitability.
India and Pakistan aren’t always bickering, including over Kashmir, the dispute that has defined their relationship over more than six decades. Away from the public eye, top and trusted envoys from the two countries have at various times sat down and wrestled with the problem, going beyond stated positions in the public and even teasing out the contours of a deal. In the end of course, someone’s nerve failed, or something else happened and the deal was off.
There is a strange dichotomy in Delhi at the moment. If you read the headlines or watch the news on television, India and Pakistan appear headed for confrontation – what form, what shape is obviously hard to tell but the rhetoric is getting more and more menacing each day.
India and Pakistan will open a trade link across divided Kashmir for the first time in six decades on Tuesday, aiming to ease tensions by creating soft borders in the disputed region. The move looks to be fairly tentative; lorries will be allowed across the military ceasefire line only once a week, carrying a limited list of goods, and will be expected to unload some 10 km to 15 km beyond the Line of Control which separates the Indian and Pakistani-held parts of the region. But it has potentially more than symbolic significance, particularly if it helps to open up the isolated Kashmir Valley — at the heart of the separatist revolt — to the outside world.
One of the more recurrent themes in U.S. political punditry these days is the need to nudge India and Pakistan towards peace. The theory is that this would bolster the new civilian government in Islamabad by encouraging trade and economic development, reduce a rivalry that threatens regional stability, including in Afghanistan, and limit the role of the Pakistan Army, whose traditional dominance has been fuelled by a perceived threat from India.
The People’s Daily does not run editorials very often about Pakistan and India, so when it does, I pay attention. It just published an op-ed about the latest talks between India and Pakistan on counter-terrorism. The talks themselves appeared to yield little in actual results. Yet according to the People’s Daily, it was an “important step towards mutual political trust”.
While living in Delhi after 9/11, and in particular after India and Pakistan nearly went to war over an attack on the Indian parliament on December 13, 2001, one of the questions that cropped up frequently was about how much the Pakistan army had been permeated by hardline Islamists. In other words, how much sympathy did the army feel for al Qaeda and Taliban militants that then General Pervez Musharraf had pledged to fight?