Call it the taste of Sharm el-Sheikh. India and Pakistan have taken one more step in moving ahead with the composite dialogue (now re-dubbed dialogue, but in essence the same thing) that came to a halt after the Mumbai terror attacks. A moribund joint commission has just been activated and to top it all, a liberalized visa regime has been signed. What more can one ask?

India took a calculated risk to de-link terrorism from talks. After the recent visit of minister for external affairs S.M. Krishna to Islamabad, India has claimed “success": The step-by-step approach in improving relations with its neighbour has been accepted. For all appearances, it is working.

Realism, however, demands caution. Fifteen years ago, a similar sense of optimism was visible when the then foreign secretary Salman Haider and his Pakistani counterpart Shamshad Ahmad announced steps to make dialogue a meaningful option. Kargil was still distant. And so was Mumbai.

The point is that there will be no certainty to India-Pakistan relations so long as atavistic claims remain the moving force on one side. The newfound bonhomie is better explained by factors other than mere goodwill. Pakistan has been, to put it mildly, a difficult country for many years. Constant military engagements on its western borders, in Afghanistan’s internal affairs, a radicalized and combustible mass of people within its borders and a faltering economy hardly leave it time and room for any other adventures. Kashmir has been put on the backburner not because Islamabad realizes the folly of its position, but for practical reasons.

It is against this background that India’s “success" must be seen. It is at best situational, at worst it lacks foundation.

There are two dangers ahead. One, any sustainable peace deal with India will require compromises that will be unacceptable to the radical sections of Pakistani society. Today, this element is no longer fringe, it is mainstream. It can only be a politically disconnected government such as the one headed by Asif Ali Zardari that can even entertain such thoughts. Two, at the moment the civil-military relationship in Islamabad is fluid: any changes in it could lead to a different take on India.

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