Saturday, March 6, 2010

Well done, Dr Singh

Editorial -- Express Tribune --(Coming out soon in the market)

India’s prime minister Dr Manmohan Singh was not far off the mark when he told members of the Lok Sabha on March 5 that talking with Pakistan was essential and the only way to avoid any potential “miscalculations” from either of the countries was to have a continued bilateral engagement and that an environment in which there was no contact between the two countries had the potential to cause great harm to both countries. Dr Singh’s government came in for much criticism during the course of the parliamentary debate following its decision to hold a secretary-level meeting with Pakistan – this at a time, according to the Indian opposition, when terrorism from within its borders was still being directed towards India. The prime minister’s response to this was simple but more importantly it was pragmatic and practical and indicates that he does not really share the view of the Indian military-bureaucratic establishment which tends to see Pakistan through a very hawkish lens. For example, his response to those who oppose talks with Pakistan was logical in that he pointed out that the rest of the world was engaged with Pakistan and India’s not doing so was not really isolating Islamabad. He also pointed out – from India’s point of view of course – that a problem did exist on this issue and that the best approach was to address it and not think that it could be just wished away by not talking to Pakistan

Of course, this is not to say that Pakistan does not have its fair share of hawks, and they can be found not only in the civil-military establishment but also in society in general and in particular in the increasingly powerful media. However, Dr Singh’s remarks will go a long way in countering those on both sides who do not want to see any semblance of peace between the two countries. By the Indian prime minister’s own acknowledgement of his belief that channels of communication between the two countries should never “break down” it seems that perhaps the coming months may well see a reinvigoration of the currently moribund dialogue between the two countries. What Dr Singh has now told his own parliament could well be seen as a re-assertion by him – and his national security team, which includes the reportedly moderate Shiv Shankar Menon as principal adviser – towards a full re-engagement of Pakistan. And that can only be a good thing because both countries exist side-by-side, share a long border, have a common language and a quasi-common culture.

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