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Editorial
Making a peace bid is not a bad idea
by H.K. Dua

Even between individuals it requires some courage to make peace with an estranged neighbour. When it comes to subcontinental nations like India and Pakistan, which have fought bitter wars every now and then, it requires much more than courage even to resume talking, least of all, make a bid for peace.

For the Prime Minister, Dr Manmohan Singh, to have chosen the first policy speech in the new Parliament to send across a message of peace to Pakistan, it also required a vision of future relationships in the subcontinent and statesmanship he has harnessed.

Hopefully, Pakistan will take Dr Manmohan Singh’s message in the same spirit, come out with a positive response and take some steps to undo the damage done to the peace process by the gory killings of Mumbai going under the label 26/11.

Islamabad actually needs to assure India that it is taking all steps to stop the export of terrorism to India and tackle the jehadis who are always keen to follow the path of destruction and derail the peace process whenever it has begun to move forward.

Interestingly, both Dr Manmohan Singh and Pakistani President Asif Zardari will be in Moscow on June 15 to attend the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation representing their countries as observers. The possibility of a meeting taking place between him and President Zardari is quite likely. And if all goes well, it may turn out to be more than a hand-shaking photo-op. Normally, too much should not be read into such sideline events, but even a brief encounter between the two leaders will be significant, considering that this will be the first meeting taking place after 26/11. If nothing else, they could succeed in breaking ice.

Pakistan may not have hauled up all terrorist leaders responsible for planning last November’s attack on Mumbai; but it admitted, although reluctantly, that the attackers were Pakistani nationals operating from its territory and that it would take action against the sponsors (which it has not done so far).

Releasing Hafiz Saeed under a court order came as a surprise to India, but Islamabad tried to do damage-control exercise, saying the provincial government at Lahore was filing an appeal against the court’s order. Islamabad has to take more steps to let India feel that it is serious about mending a fractured peace process.

Soon after 26/11, Pakistan raised the bogie of India mobilising its troops along the border with Pakistan, but it did not wash with the US for whom it was meant. Apparently, its comfort level on the eastern border has improved, judging from its decision to recently pull out 6,000 to 8,000 troops from borders with India for deployment in the North-West where it is willy-nilly cooperating with the American troops by launching operations against the Taliban.

Not only has New Delhi denied Pakistan a propaganda advantage about a non-existent troops mobilisation by India, it may also have told Mr Richard Holbrooke and company that India was not out to do anything that may vitiate Pakistan’s operations against the Taliban in Swat.

There are more people in Delhi than earlier who believe that the Pakistani Army’s operations against the Taliban are beneficial for Pakistan, and indirectly for India.

India is, however, seriously worried about the activities of the Pakistani wing of the Taliban who are spread over the entire country, particularly in southern Pakistan, and have been able to strike twice in Lahore and targets close to the Indian border.

Good intentions and willingness to try again apart, India is moving cautiously. One worry that is nagging New Delhi is: What happens if a group of so-called “non-state actors” choose to launch another terrorist attack on another target in India?

For a dialogue to begin on a hopeful note, Pakistan may have to ensure that such an eventuality does not arise again to cause a serious setback to a peace process that is sought to be revived.

The road to peace, particularly between India and Pakistan, has generally to traverse a tricky terrain. Even if the peace talks begin, their success is not guaranteed, considering the threats, particularly from the terrorist groups, lurking ahead.

While India has always dealt with the rulers of the day in Pakistan and it intends to do so even now, most people in Delhi do not really know who exactly is in charge in Pakistan.

Nobody in Pakistan gives many points to President Zardari, who at one time had said that he would like Kashmir to be placed on the backburner for some years—only to retract his statement. Pakistani Prime Minister Yousuf Gilani has lately been making more voluble statements than President Zardari, but is often seen following a different line. Possibly, he has moved closer to the Army.

The real power in Pakistan is still in the hands of the Pakistan Army, but no one in Delhi really knows where does Army Chief Ashfaq Pervez Kiyani really stand on relations with India and how keen he and his corps commanders are to walk the peace track.

Dr Manmohan Singh’s initiative is reminiscent of the speech he made at Amritsar three years ago with a peace message meant for President Musharraf and the people across the border. Much has happened, meanwhile. And this time he has taken the initiative; but guardedly.

Surely, Delhi has gone into the imponderables before the Prime Minister rose in Parliament to recommend to Pakistan that it is worth resuming a joint search for peace which could benefit one-fifth of humanity living in this part of the world.

Peace, after all, is not a bad idea, certainly not for the people of a troubled subcontinent craving for it.

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