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
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    Comment number 19.

    Thing is that any right wing group in India don't set up terror camps and arms training and send them to Pakistan or the west to kill innocents. That is what is happening in Pak.

  • Comment number 18.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • rate this
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    Comment number 17.

    In order to make peace one must acknowledge that a problem exists. If no problem then why are two countries not friends. In fact India has never accepted the reality that Pakistan exists and Muslims of sub-continent wanted a separate country. Talking about taking Pakistan back, or invading Azad Kashmir will not work, instead accept Pakistan and give Kashmiries a right of self-determination.

  • rate this
    -1

    Comment number 16.

    Mr. Biswas has mentioned the results PEW survey which were convincingly positive, but yet remains one-sided as there is no such survey available to share how Indians would respond to the same questions? When we talk about extremists, why we forget Shiv-sena, Bajrang Dall, Akali dall, Bal thakray and Nrendra Modi who capitalises on anti-muslim sentiments. Evil are evil, Indian or Pakistani.

  • rate this
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    Comment number 15.

    Quick history lesson: During partition, the Maharajah of Kashmir voted to join India, pakistan not happy with the decision so they sent in Afghan tribals and the Pak army. India then sent in the army to repel the invaders, but unfortunately thanks to Nehru the job was not completed. In every war between the 2 countries India stopped short of taking back all of Kashmir,hence the problems today.

  • rate this
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    Comment number 14.

    So long the ISI and Army has a free hand to formulate Pakistan's foreign policy, particularly towards India, no meaningful solutions can be found. It all depends on the people of Pakistan to elect such leaders who has will and power to free Pakistan from the clutches for ISI, the Army and the extremist elements. Until that happens, peace is a distant possibility between the two countries.

  • rate this
    -2

    Comment number 13.

    Anyone thinking of making long-lasting good relations between India and Pakistan must not forget Kashmir. Kashmir is not an internal matter (such as Khalistan, Balochistan, Nagaland, Maoists etc) of either of the countries as it is a disputed territory. The two neighbours have fought wars over it, you can't expect them to forget it altogether all of sudden? Without Kashmir, any measures will fail.

  • rate this
    -3

    Comment number 12.

    To all the Pakistanis who are obsessed with the Kashmir issue, have you heard of Balochistan? You know that big piece of mineral-rich land in your western region? Well the Balochis want independance, they have been brutalised by the Pakistan army and ISI. If Pakistan cares so genuinely about people's rights, then grant them to the Balochis first.

  • rate this
    -1

    Comment number 11.

    Zardar's sudden visit to India was aimed to divert the attention from his government's failures at home, but now U.S has thrown a new bone of Hafiz Saeed, which itself a joke as there is no single case in any US court nor is Mr Saeed in hiding. US has successful hijacked prospects of two neighbours moving in right direction. After all US has to sell the weapons to somebody??

  • rate this
    -1

    Comment number 10.

    Soutik has completely missed the primary dispute between to states - KASHMIR!!

  • rate this
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    Comment number 9.

    Pakistan uses Islamic extremism as a foreign policy tool. The moderate people of Pakistan need to stand up and oppose the terror outfits and radicals that are controlling the mindsets of the young and uneducated and sending them off to Jihad. Only then can there be true peace. Otherwise Pakistan will descend into a failed state. Then their neighbours will have to take strong action.

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 8.

    This crazy dude Hafiz Saeed is being used to create negative energy during this time, as an attempt to sabotage positive IndoPak talks. The people of Pakistan completely reject this radical lunatic. Every country has trash n losers. Why is he getting so much media hype?

  • rate this
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    Comment number 7.

    Bonds of common culture, traditions & ethos are convincing more Pakistanis that their interests lie in good relations with India. Terrorism is absent from most parts of the country. Punjab has not experienced even a single major incident in the last 15 months. Above all, terrorism is no more a topic in any discussion. There's a long way to go, but green shoots are everywhere.

  • rate this
    -1

    Comment number 6.

    Mr Biswas is completely turning a blind eye to the terror emanating from Pakistan. Will he personally explain to the victims of another Mumbai style attack? Mr Biswas is living in cloud-cukoo land if he thinks that a country like Pakistan with its terror outfits should be tolerated and treated with kid gloves.

  • rate this
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    Comment number 5.

    Pakistani leadership need to understand that using Islamic extremism as part of national foreign policy was and still is a huge mistake. In practical terms, Pakistan desperately needs new political direction & true leadership to shape its future. Foreign trained (not educated) children from the families of feudal lords & political dynasties can not lead Pakistan towards prosperity & development.

  • rate this
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    Comment number 4.

    Peace process began in 2004, derailed in 2008 when militants attacked Mumbai. India blamed Pakistan-based militant group Lashkar-e-Taiba. While political reconciliation efforts have stalled, Pakistan & India have been improving economic ties. In November, Pakistan's Cabinet approved India's “Most Favored Nation” status = removes tariffs allows countries to trade on equal terms.

  • rate this
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    Comment number 3.

    Pakistan has a tougher job to accomplish. It has a more feudal & hierarchical, more conservative society than India.The PEW Survey also indicate that Govt sponsored propaganda has distorted public opinion & misled identifing "real threat the country is facing". 1 can learn abt Pakistan & its politics from Pakistanis like Mohammed Hanif (Head of BBC Urdu & author of "A Case of Exploding Mangoes").

  • rate this
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    Comment number 2.

    Why now?
    Pakistan is rejecting US demand for arrest of Jamaat-ud-Dawa (JuD) & Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) Chief Hafiz Muhammad Saeed, taking strong exception to announcement of $10M bounty. Pakistan has asked US to respect Pakistan's territorial sovereignty.
    Why did US offer such a bounty, create such publicity just when India & Pakistan are set to meet?

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 1.

    kashmir, anyone?

 

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