Why President Zardari's visit is a small bonus

Asif Ali Zardari Mr Zardari's visit has been welcomed by the Indian media

Hope is not a policy, but neither is despair, as South Asia expert Stephen Cohen says in a recent essay on Pakistan.

So it is with relations between India and Pakistan.

The past few days have shown how fragile the relationship can be - even as India welcomed President Asif Ali Zardari's private trip to India on Sunday - the first by a Pakistani head of state for seven years - and PM Manmohan Singh invited him for lunch, the $10m US bounty for Hafiz Saeed, the founder of Pakistan-based militant group Lashkar-e-Taiba, provoked the cleric to openly launch a fresh attack against India (and the US).

But people live in hope, so Indian media is gung-ho about Mr Zardari's visit.

They say the Pakistani president must be applauded for trying to end trade discrimination against India, easing petroleum imports from across the border, and moving towards a liberal visa deal.

"Under Mr Zardari's watch, India and Pakistan are considering a sweeping agenda for economic co-operation for the first time in decades. The prime minister has every reason to welcome Mr Zardari warmly and consider the next steps in consolidating the unexpected movement in bilateral relations," the Indian Express wrote.

Analyst C Raja Mohan believes Mr Singh must make an official trip to Pakistan after his meeting with Mr Zardari. "For his part," he wrote, "Mr Singh should convey to Mr Zardari his readiness to move as fast and as far as the Pakistan president is willing to go." Others like Jyoti Malhotra actually find Mr Zardari's visit to the shrine of a famous Sufi Muslim saint in Rajasthan loaded with symbolism in these troubled times. "Clearly, Mr Zardari has stolen an imaginative moment from the bitter-sullen history of India-Pakistan, by asking to come to pay his respects to a cherished and much-beloved saint across the Indian subcontinent," she wrote.

The relations between two neighbours remain complex. A 2010 Pew survey found 53% of the respondents in Pakistan chose India as the greater threat to their country, and only 26% chose the Taliban and al-Qaeda. At the same time 72% said it was important to improve relations with India, and about 75% wanted more trade relations and talks with India.

Pundits like Mr Cohen believe that it will "take the [Pakistan] army's compliance, strong political leadership, and resolutely independent-minded foreign ministers to secure any significant shift of approach towards India".

None of this appears to be in much evidence at the moment.

Both countries have seriously weakened governments that makes them unable to move towards any radical confidence building measures. In the current circumstances, President Zardari's visit can only be a small bonus. And as scholars like Kanti Bajpai suggest, India must remain patient (even if faced with another Mumbai-style attack), continue to engage with Islamabad, help the civilian government in Pakistan politically, try to resolve a few outstanding disputes like Siachen and Sir Creek, build a relationship with the army and explore the possibility of cooperating with Islamabad on the future of Afghanistan. Despair does not help mend a stormy relationship.

Soutik Biswas Article written by Soutik Biswas Soutik Biswas Delhi correspondent

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  • rate this

    Comment number 39.

    It was & still is a massive failure of Indian leadership & diplomacy that a small, insignificant, totally misgoverned (even as compared to India) state like Pakistan allowed to grow so much to threaten & causing slow bleeding for India, for far too long.
    I am sure the current leadership (mainly Congress party) will never gather the courage to use force, even under "the worst case scenario".

  • rate this

    Comment number 38.

    Pakistan and India must work for peace in the region. At this moment the two archrivals continue taking pot shots at each other. As a result peace remains a distant hope. Two examples of this petty stuff:

    1. Siachin/Kashmir- India is using its military might to gobble up Siachin. Pakistan uses militants to respond.
    2. Afghanistan - India supports Tajiks/Uzbeks and Pakistan supports Pashtuns.

  • rate this

    Comment number 37.


    sorry to chip in, I see even more shades of grey as I age...

    '...genuinely democratic, open society...' - there's still a strong caste system legacy & financial influence in electioneering.

    '...moral authority...' - always more than meets the eye, usually washed out with time.

    Lots of Indian activities behind the scenes in the ocean islands and borders, in shades of grey.

  • rate this

    Comment number 36.

    Then rule of Kashmir again changed hands to Sikhs (around 1819). Then British entered the scene but the official rule remained in the hands of Hindus. Hindu raja Hari Singh decided Kashmir to be a part of India. Pak invasion on 1948 itself was illegal but Indian PM Nehru did not drove the invaders out, established Indian rule first before going to UN. India did the same mistake again in 1972.

  • rate this

    Comment number 35.

    @ Desiderius Erasmus (32). Get your history right dear. Muslim entered into the scene in Kashmir in 1339 by ShamsudDin Shah Mir & that too through marrying the widow of Hindu king, not by typical war. The Mauryan emperor Ashoka established Srinagar. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_Kashmir#Muslim_rule:_Kashmir_Sultanate_.281346-1586.29. before that It was Hindu & Buddhists rule that area.


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