Why can't we disconnect from Pakistan?

Last Updated: Mon, Jan 07, 2013 10:27 hrs

'Well it's a strange old game,  you learn it slow…

One step forward and it's back you go.'

the Bug, Mark Knopfler

For years, India has sought to de-hyphenate itself from Pakistan, asking the world not to see it through the prism of relations with its recalcitrant western neighbor.

Yet for some reason, relations with Islamabad seem to dominate our foreign policy in some form or the other each year. 2012 was no different.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh politely declined repeated invitations to visit Pakistan until it acts against the masterminds of the attack on Mumbai four years ago...namely Hafeez Mohammad Saeed and his gang of mad mullahs.

Ajmal Kasab, the sole Pakistani terrorist caught alive during that attack, was executed secretly and suddenly in a Pune jail in November, after newly elected President Pranab Mukherjee rejected his clemency plea.

But that apart, given the slew of agreements signed over the past year, the two nations seem eager to put 26/11 on the backburner as they focus on improving trade and other relations. 

Indian commerce minister Anand Sharma walked into Pakistan through the Wagah border with a team of 120 Indian businessmen on February 13 on a four day official visit to Lahore, Karachi and Islamabad.

The fact that his trip coincided with Valentine's Day was perhaps just a coincidence. Sharma picked up on the trade talks initiated by the commerce secretaries of both nations in 2011 to expedite Pakistan's granting of Most Favoured Nation status to India, thereby establishing a level platform for expanding trade between the two nations, which stands at a paltry $ 2.8 billion at present.

India also agreed to allow Pakistani businessmen to invest in India, and opened a sophisticated Integrated Check Post at Wagah to facilitate faster transfer of goods.

The two sides also started talks on easing visa norms to encourage tourists and businessmen to travel between the two nations, which was fine tuned when external affairs minister SM Krishna visited Pakistan in September.

During this visit, the two sides agreed to hold the 7th round of confidence building measures on both conventional and nuclear issues in December, where both sides reviewed existing agreements on pre-notification of flight tests of ballistic missiles and reducing the risk from accidents relating to nuclear weapons.

But when Rehman Malik, the adviser to Pakistan's Prime Minister on interior affairs,  arrived in Delhi to sign the final agreement on the new visa regime, his insensitive remarks on the torture of a young Indian soldier during the Kargil war rankled the Indian establishment. His rejection of evidence indicting Hafiz Saeed as the mastermind of 26/11, and his attempt to link 26/11 with the Gujarat riots and the Babri Masjid demolition, added salt to the insult.

It is important to remember that despite the revival of attempts at 'people to people' and trade and sporting relationships, the fundamental differences between the two nations remain as frozen as they were since partition, with neither side able to compromise without a huge political fallout.

These include disputes over water, Kashmir, Sir Creek,  Siachen and of course Pakistan-sponsored terrorism, of which 26/11 is just one example. 

This became obvious when just before the Gujarat elections, chief minister Narendra Modi warned the Prime Minister not to compromise on Sir Creek, a marshy area which divides Kutch in Gujarat and Sindh in Pakistan. Pakistan claims the entire creek, which is said to be rich in mineral and oil resources, while India wants the border to be drawn through the middle.

As for Kashmir, Pakistan's leasing out of areas in Gilgit Baltistan in the Northern areas of Kashmir to China has raised several red flags in India.

The problem is, Pakistan has consistently set the agenda for Kashmir, while India keeps reacting, often in a knee jerk fashion,  without offering another option. Running to the Americans –or anyone else, for that matter—only makes us look like wimps.

My friend Arindam Banerjee's 'Neelam Plan' , for instance, would certainly put the ball right back in Pakistan's court. 

If we can wrest the initiative on Kashmir by putting up solid counter-proposals to each Pakistani proposal keeping Indian interests in mind, we would at least not look like a nation which blinks each time push comes to shove.   

So even as we indulge in cricket diplomacy, it is important to remember that India and Pakistan are unlikely to become friends anytime soon. New Delhi's sanctimonious position about not letting terrorist swine disrupt talks will continue to be tested by more attacks by the ISI and its pets like the Lashkar-e-Taiba on India.

Sadly, until our leaders grow some cojones, Islamabad will continue to lead this macabre dance, and our hyphenation with our nasty neighbor in international perception is not likely to be removed any time soon.

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Ramananda Sengupta is a senior editor and strategic analyst

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