What should be India’s response to Pakistan Army Chief Ashfaq Pervez Kayani’s statement emphasizing peaceful coexistence and dialogue for resolution of outstanding issues between our two countries? If one were to go by the skeptics, they refuse to take on face value the General’s conciliatory remarks till the time Islamabad brings to justice the much despised perpetrators of Mumbai’s 26/11.
The point would seem valid given Pakistan’s prevarications on combating terror directed at India from its territory by the likes of Hafiz Sayeed of the Lashkar-e-Toiba. But while continuing to flag our concerns, India must take note of the subtle Pakistani shift from predicating progress on Siachen, Sir Creek and trade with the festering Kashmir dispute.
From a limited perspective though, Kayani’s remarks are noteworthy on two counts: he did not specifically mention Kashmir and confirmed by his advocacy of peace with India the Army’s support for the recent forward movement on trade. The challenge now is to build on such positives without unduly raising expectations of big breakthroughs.
Public expectations head north-words if the tendency is to “gain an inch but show a mile” before television cameras, something the two sides rightly desisted from doing while preparing ground for improving trade. A formal confirmation of the Army’s stand on the ongoing dialogue will come by the year-end when Islamabad’s expected to formalize the MFN status it has promised New Delhi.
Another good pointer to Pakistan’s sincerity in promoting peace and countering terror could be the situation in the Kashmir valley this summer. If peace holds on our side of the Line of Control, the climate for dialogue will improve. The immediate beneficiaries of the conducive ambience will be the people of Kashmir — both in terms of tourism and cross-LoC trade that has been tardy for want of infrastructure and banking links.
Trade by itself is the worst enemy of war. If coupled with cross-border investments, as is being advocated in certain quarters, it becomes a doubly potent weapon in containing hostility and expanding the constituency for peace. The engaging parties know that the road ahead is arduous and can only be negotiated through strong political will and a national consensus that might not be possible without reducing the prevailing trust deficit.
The popular perception of Pakistan in India is influenced largely by its inability or lack of resolve to reign in the likes of Sayeed who vitiate the climate for talks by their relentless hate propaganda. The reward the US recently announced for credible information on the LeT supremo’s involvement in terrorism hasn’t helped matters. The announcement turned him into a national hero who stands taller in the eyes of many Pakistanis than the government they’ve elected and the Army they’ve always looked up to.
Both these entities have over the years been painted as appendages of the US that unfortunately is the cuss word these days for most Pakistanis. They see America’s Af-Pak policy at the root of their sorrows.
Making peace is a difficult task therefore for New Delhi and Islamabad. But doesn’t fortune favour the brave?