Despite little hope for major breakthrough, Singh, Gilani meeting marks a step forward
When Indian Premier Manmohan Singh and Pakistani Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani shook hands at a cricket stadium in the northern Indian city of Mohali, it was not merely a photo-op but they were setting off yet another round of â€œcricket diplomacyâ€ that marked a tentative return of good will. This is the third time the two nations are using the game to bridge their differences.
The meeting also gave both leaders a chance to speak candidly on a range of tense issues without the pressure of public expectations, as all eyes across South Asia were focused on Wednesdayâ€™s cricket clash. Despite little expectation of any major breakthrough, the fact that the two leaders met face-to-face marked a step forward for a relationship that has been effectively frozen since the 2008 Mumbai attacks.
The meeting is a re-engagement between India and Pakistan. And officials on either side of the border who have been at the heart of the sputtering and stuttering decades-old discussions believe that such a meeting generates an extremely positive momentum.
Twice before, the game was used by leaders to bring about a thaw in relations between the two nations. Former Pakistani President Mohammed Zia-ul-Haq visited India in 1987 and in 2005, Pakistanâ€™s then military ruler, Pervez Musharraf, traveled to India and both brought about short-term resolution to the contested issue of Kashmir.
Similarly on Wednesday, Singh and Gilani exuded optimism after the meeting. But is it just another start on the road to peace or a flash in the pan? Both sides laid the groundwork for a ministerial meeting in July that would put issues like Kashmir, terrorism and trade on the negotiating table in what is known as the â€œcomposite dialogue.â€ Also as a sign of good intent, Pakistan in a major confidence-building measure (CBM) agreed to let Indian investigators travel to Pakistan to probe the Mumbai attacks. This along with the agreement to meet in July for a â€˜composite dialogueâ€™ augurs well for a push for peace.
But skeptics believe that this too would founder like every previous attempt by these two nations. Many in Pakistan believe that Singh and his Congress party, embroiled in a spate of corruption scandals, are trying to regain the foreign policy initiative with this pitch for peace. While on the Indian side they hold misgivings that the civilian government, too battered by its own problems, would not be able to deliver.
But it is time for a change from all these droll thinking. Assuming that both the countries are willing to shed their post-partition baggage by instituting CBMs in Kashmir and focus on trade in their dialogue then it could be the opening that the countries need to bring about an encouraging climate that shows the countries could to do business with each other.
Despite the highs and lows of the cricket match that followed on the field, the people showed that they can live together despite differing opinions and varied choices. Now it is the bureaucratsâ€™ turn to show the Mohali spirit and ride the good-will wave to peace between these two South Asian giants.