Nothing concrete

If the warm handshakes and effusive words emanating from the India-Pakistan summit on the sidelines of the SAARC meeting in the Maldives are indicative of the health of bilateral relations between the two neighbours, then there is reason for optimism.

Much bilateral bonhomie was on display when prime minister Manmohan Singh and his Pakistani counterpart Yusuf Raza Gilani met the media. The two prime ministers hailed the start of a new chapter in bilateral relations. Indeed, trade seems set for a new era with Pakistan announcing the granting of most-favoured nation (MFN) status to India and Delhi declaring its intention to negotiate a preferential trade agreement with Pakistan.

Interior minister Rehman Malik’s tough words on Ajmal Kasab, the lone surviving terrorist in the 2008 Mumbai terror attacks – he described him a ‘terrorist’ who must be hanged – would have warmed the hearts of many Indians who want to see Pakistan act sternly on terrorists unleashing violence on India.

However, what is the reality behind these words? There is little clarity in what is actually happening. For one, Pakistan has made several flip-flops on the MFN issue, with Gilani announcing and then denying that the granting of MFN status to India was final. There is some concern in India that Pakistan is still testing the waters to see the response of hardliners at home; hence the nod to according MFN status followed by a denial.

Supporting Kasab’s hanging isn’t enough. India is yet to see Pakistan act sternly against the network and infrastructure that enabled Kasab to unleash violence in India. Islamabad is still to act against the mountain of evidence India provided in the wake of the Mumbai attacks.

Pakistan must realise that granting India MFN status or acting against terrorist networks on its soil benefit not just India but Pakistan as well. It makes eminent sense therefore for Pakistan to act on the two issues. Self interest should propel it to do so.

India and Pakistan have backed each other’s bids for stints in the UN Security Council and both succeeded. Thus co-operative efforts are mutually beneficial. The two governments need to go beyond rhetoric of shrinking trust deficits to substantial achievements on the ground. Can they work together to bring peace in Afghanistan?

After all, a stable Afghanistan benefits the region. In an era of shrinking trust deficits, they must not hesitate to take on the big challenge of co-operating in Afghanistan.

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