The buzz and excitement that the upcoming private visit by Pakistan’s President Asif Ali Zardari to India – and that too just for a day — has created can at least impart one lesson on the two neighbours: they need each other and will always need each other.
And that whatever they do, they cannot change the fact that they are neighbours and will, for ever, remain neighbors. They have fought so much and so many times that even a slight positive gesture that can create some goodwill gets a huge welcome among the people of both countries.
Not only that, it has also become evident that the excitement on their part cannot be dimmed even by a coincident that had the full potential of increasing tension between the two.
The US move, for example, to announce a $10 million bounty on the Pakistan-based Lashkar-e-Toiba leader Hafiz Saeed could have done it because he is wanted in India for the 2008 Mumbai terror attack, which stalemated a peace dialogue between the two.
But the undying buzz shows that such visits can be turned into some of the more effective confidence-building measures.
Newspaper headlines in both countries have been talking about the visit for the whole week. Some say it is just a private visit and nothing spectacular is expected from a brief discussion President Zardari will have with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. Others say the discussion will last for full one hour and a lot of issues can be raised.
Some reports say India might raise the terrorism issue, and other reports have been speculating about possible talks on relaxing the visa regime, pointing to the fact that Zardari is bringing along his Interior Minister Rahman Malik.
But to this analyst, the timing of the visit may have the most significance.
The timing indicates that, among other things, they must talk about some of the issues that can lay a strong foundation for a possible visit to Pakistan in the coming months by Manmohan Singh, who obviously will be prepared to go only if the trip can have concrete results. So it could be possible that Zardari is coming to India to reassure Manmohan Singh that his visit will result in a concrete agreement.
The visit also comes at a time when the composite dialogue between the two is slowly breathing again after a stern stalemate following the 2008 Mumbai terror attack. India had stopped it totally due to the frustration caused by what it felt was Pakistan’s foot-dragging in bringing the culprits of Mumbai to justice. India did agree to revive it last year, but only half-heartedly.
Pakistan took a huge friendly step after that and decided to grant India the most favoured nation status in bilateral trade. Now Islamabad feels India should take some positive step.
Zardari has always favoured improving relations with India. And the fact is that some of his earlier efforts and favourable statements about India were strongly snubbed by the Pakistan Army. So it is but natural that Zardari would like India to take some steps that would ease the Pakistan Army’s tension over India.
In this situation a draft agreement on the Siachen Glacier that came so close in the past to becoming a ‘signed agreement’ may come in handy. And Zardari may assure the Indian leader that the two sides can announce it during his visit to Pakistan.
And this could be good for the Indian leader too because he can use a highly successful visit to Pakistan to boost his Congress party’s image after the humiliating defeat in the recent state elections.
Elections may also be on Zardari’s mind, and also the fact that more than half of the Pakistanis want their government to improve relations with India because of economic factors. They see India growing rapidly on the economic front and realize that Pakistan can get a share of that pie. So if just before the next elections, Zardari can arrange a resounding visit by the Indian leader, it can help his Pakistan People Party’s image as the one that wants to improve relations with India.
So this visit by Zardari could be to reassure India that he is genuine in his efforts to improve ties with New Delhi and that Manmohan Singh’s visit to Pakistan can be very successful. That will be a very effective confidence building measure’.
(07-04-2012 – Ravi M. Khanna is a longtime South Asia observer who has headed the South Asia Desk in the Voice of America Newsroom in Washington. His books include ‘TV News Writing Made Easy for Newcomers’. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)