Peace talks between India and Pakistan are always a difficult proposition. The burden of very different expectations, a hostile public opinion on both sides and, finally, the political reality of undoing what most governments have tried to cement since 1947, make for some heavy lifting. After Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and his Pakistani counterpart Yousuf Raza Gilani met in Thimpu last week, hope has been rekindled. This, however, should not lead to runaway expectations. Realism ought to be our guiding principle.
So what are the prospects for peace? In one word, dim. Consider the problems in India first. Even if all barriers are overcome and Singh is able to carry his party, his alliance partners and the Opposition with him, it may not be enough. He has done little, if any, work in convincing Indian public opinion that a lasting peace deal with Pakistan, which will involve India diluting some sovereignty over Jammu and Kashmir (J&K), will be worth the price. This is likely to be his biggest stumbling block. For unless this is done, his party will have a rough time at the hustings. When it senses such trouble, the Congress will refuse to back him. The Opposition too may not play ball especially if it smells huge political and electoral gains.
Then take the case of Pakistan. If, on the Indian side, the issues involved are those involving the rough and tumble of politics, the dilemma in Islamabad is existential: How can an “enemy” turn into a friend overnight? Even if India does agree to some deal of J&K, it will be seen as an Indian “defeat”, a reply to 1971. Peace with Pakistan, even if India wills it, will not come easy. The thought of peace is unnerving for that country. Anti-Indianism, if one can use the term, is a lodestar for Pakistan. If India is gone, who or what will take its place as the “other” by which its identity is defined?
When seen in this light, it is not surprising that Islamabad keeps on creating new and imaginary problems with India. The new “dispute” over river water sharing is one good example of such thinking. Be sure that such imagination will not cease even after a deal on J&K.
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