In a fast-changing world, three years seem like a blur in the affairs of the world. In South Asia, they’re more like eternity. This week will mark the third anniversary of the 26/11 Mumbai attacks. And for the first time in three years, there appears to be some movement in Islamabad to ensure closure on a terrible memory in India.
For starters, a judicial commission looking into the 26/11 case is waiting to come over to India. Leaders of the two countries—Prime Minister downward—have expressed satisfaction at the diminishing “trust deficit” between the two countries. Trade liberalization, too, seems around the corner. Is the six-decade-old animosity coming to an end?
That’s where matters get complicated, but not for reasons one might suspect. It has been held that Kashmir is a sticking point. Perhaps it is not: there have been repeated assertions by leaders—former Pakistan president Pervez Musharraf being one—and diplomats that the broad contours of the deal on Kashmir have been agreed to. The details of such a deal have never been made public on the Indian side. Musharraf sketched the broad outlines—withdrawal of troops, permitting flow of men and material across the Line of Control and no redrawing of maps—but these proposals were never debated freely. If one ignores the various “devil-in-detail” problems, one could say Kashmir is no longer a hurdle.
PM Manmohan Singh shakes hands with his Pakistani counterpart Yousuf Raza Gilani (File photo PTI)
Then where is the problem? The problem lies in the changed circumstances in the two countries. Pakistan is no longer a dictatorship. In a democracy, however fragile it may be, such momentous decisions cannot be taken in secret. Moreover, given the extreme radicalization of large sections of its society, it is not clear how such a deal could have the wider political acceptability that is required of it. In India, a democracy, the situation is in some ways even more extreme. Officially, the “deal”—if it can be called that—has never been publicized or even debated in Parliament. Again, it is not clear how the two governments plan to secure wider approval for it.
Finally, there is the issue of timing: Pakistan will face elections in 2013 and India in 2014. That gives negotiators a very tight timetable to craft a deal that, given the complexity of the issue, is unlikely to be anything simple. It is best that the two countries proceed with caution.
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