This article was earlier published in Hard News - India Current Affairs Monthly
Concerns on both sides of LoC have remained the same for six decades. The real and more refreshing intrigue is, whether, amid all the storm that the Birkin-laden ‘best face’ of Pakistan washed in the Indian media, was it really worth the soak and will the feel good factors last?
While India and Pakistan announced new ‘Confidence Building Measures’ (CBMs) for Jammu and Kashmir, Hina Rabbani Khar made sure her message of a changed Pakistani mindset got across and understood by her counterparts in India. This effort to initiate a new chapter in ties looks more successful than it may have been perceived earlier.
Both sides acknowledged the difficulties — India conveyed its displeasure on Khar’s meetings with Kashmiri separatist leaders Syed Ali Shah Geelani and Mirwaiz Farooq. To decelerate the irritation, Khar refrained from mentioning Kashmirat the brief media interaction. In a gauzily scripted plan, it was left for India’s Foreign Minister SM Krishna to mention Pakistan’s core concern. He said: “On Jammu and Kashmir, we will continue discussions to find a peaceful solution by narrowing divergences and building convergences.”
Will this convergence be effective enough to capture the political and diplomatic imagination of the two countries? Will this new feeling help in resolving key issues that have sparked three wars between them over the past six decades? After a rather disciplined undertone to the flurry of Khar’s visit, officials in Pakistan, who were nervous prior to the feedback, felt delighted at howIndiamade a ‘good’ deal out of it. It is clear thatIndiaappreciates good news coming from Pakistan. If it comes in the form of a modern-looking, European brand-dashing ambassador, it’s much better it seems. Like someone I heard saying, “The thinking goes, a Birkin is better than a ballistic missile.”
The visit enticed colossal media coverage (it was really about Khar, her good looks and super-expensive designer assets); we saw how the body language of both countries drastically uplifted. As I see it, this is an incredible sense of ‘friendligence’ from both sides of LoC.
We saw Khar’s interviews with CNN-IBN and ANI — an opportunity to normalise any fire-thirsty dialogue. She logically made strides into each discussion with realistic feedback and India took it positively. So far, so good! Yes, India-Pak talks didn’t break any new ground, but they weren’t the awkward blow that the Qureshi-Krishna talks had been.
These talks have restored a good atmosphere to the peace process, and with Indian Prime MinisterManmohan Singh inviting Khar for a State visit, we might see more developments very soon. What we achieved was a successful inaugural tour as the two foreign ministers announced modest, but very welcome, agreements regarding the sulkily borderline region
There was a handsome increase in borderline exchange as they vowed to double the number of days of cross-border trade between the two parts of Kashmir. For Kashmiris, who want to cross the border for family visits, tourism and religious purposes, they promised to allow, expand and expedite travel permits. Considering that two out of three wars have been over Kashmir, even these small steps could help chip away at the instinctive suspicions of each other and relax the atmosphere.
Before this visit, some doubted the meeting would even happen after three explosions ripped through Mumbai, killing 24 people. Even though the suspicion for these attacks had fallen on ‘Indian terrorists’, if India wanted, it was easy to shoot questions to Pakistan and maybe relate it to the blasts. But no,India didn’t do that. Not to forget Manmohan Singh’s efforts to engage with Pakistan despite its failure to prosecute those responsible for the 2008 horrors in Mumbai.
This would be a first time in history: the people of both countries can feel a sense of fair interaction and a true, honest effort to move forward. There is more to talk about: working on the water dispute, expanded indulgence in massive trade opportunities and their joint stake in a stable Afghanistan.
The US and its allies are planning a conference in Bonn in December 2011, and hope to rally international support for a broad regional strategy that includes a peace deal for Afghanistan, trade agreements and ambitious energy projects. India and Pakistan need to make the most of it. The payoff could be huge if the leaders of these two sibling-nations assemble their valour and dodge their differences to take a stride forward. Like Khar said, “We’d like to break from history, not be burdened by it.