M A I N   N E W S

Close encounters of the extreme kind
Why Mohali could be a win-win for both countries

In terms of excitement, Chandigarh is considered as placid as the waters of Sukhna Lake. But when a cricketing tsunami, in the form of an India-Pakistan World Cup clash, strikes the city it cannot but be overwhelmed. More so, if the occasion is also converted into a close encounter of the highest kind with Prime Ministers of India and Pakistan planning to hold an informal summit at the venue. Just for today, Chandigarh will become the centre of our universe.

In terms of cricket, many in India and Pakistan may regard today’s clash as the real final of the World Cup. But that is an exaggeration. Winning the Cup is the ultimate in cricketing achievement - as a nation we still savour our 1983 victory. Who remembers that we defeated Pakistan in the league matches in the run up to the 1992 World Cup in Australia. (I do because I covered that match). What stays is that Pakistan led by the redoubtable Imran Khan lifted the Cup that year.

Let’s not also get carried away by the hype and almost war-like hysteria that prevails around the current face-off. It is first and foremost a cricket match and must be treated as just that. By 10.30 pm tonight or even earlier there will be a winner. But the losing team need not feel despondent — getting to the semi-finals is achievement enough. Nor should the losing nation despair. For unlike war, sport is a fine expression of human enlightenment.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s gesture of inviting his Pakistan counterpart and the gracious acceptance by Yousuf Raza Gilani are acts of statesmanship. In the surcharged atmosphere, the presence of these two leaders will bring equanimity to the proceedings. Whatever the outcome, goodwill should prevail. Let’s not forget that Pakistan is our invited guest and we must go all out to make them feel that - whatever be our differences.

Cynics may look on the move by the two heads of states as a way to distract their domestic constituencies from the mounting troubles at home. After all Manmohan Singh has seen his credibility considerably dented after the Commonwealth Games stench, the 2 G telecom scam, the ignominy over the appointment of the Central Vigilance Commissioner and the exposes by WikiLeaks about the 2008 trust vote in Parliament. Gilani too has been having a rough time. His country is in a perilous position caused in the main by the deteriorating law and order situation, the dismal performance of Pakistan’s economy and the ruling party’s worsening political stability.

Yet to look on today’s event only as a cunning diversion would be to belittle the effort. Everyone is aware that India’s unfinished road to peace with Pakistan is being paved with good intentions. Almost every Indian prime minister in recent times has burnt his fingers trying and Manmohan Singh is no exception with his most recent being at the Sharm-el-Sheikh summit in July 2009 at the start of his second term. So to bank upon an Indo-Pakistan summit, even an informal one, to bolster one’s sagging popularity would be foolhardy.

Instead this should be seen as another signal of Manmohan Singh reasserting his prime ministerial authority. After having his back to the wall for many months, he is climbing out of the hole. That his government has started taking firm action against those accused of corruption including sending to jail someone who was till recently a cabinet minister has made him seem more convincing. In Parliament, rather than being defensive, he has spoken with a rare conviction, candour and even at times wit. So what we are seeing is the Prime Minister making a determined comeback unafraid to push forward his vision of enduring peace with Pakistan.

The gesture of inviting the Pakistan Prime Minister to witness the match may not yield much in terms of summitry but will certainly improve the atmosphere in which the current round of talks are being held. The two sides have embarked on what is being described as a “serious, comprehensive and sustained dialogue” after the two foreign secretaries met in Thimphu on the sidelines of SAARC this February and worked out a structure for the talks. The just concluded Home Secretary talks is part of the process and has yielded some results with both agreeing to send judicial commissions to examine evidence about 26/11 to speed up the trial of those accused of committing it.

This to be followed by talks with the secretaries of defence, water resources, commerce and science and technology apart from foreign secretary levels talks on key issues that formed part of the erstwhile composite dialogue. These include terrorism and drugs, Jammu and Kashmir, peace and security including Confidence Building Measures, Siachen, Sir Creek, the Wullar Barrage and Tulbul project, economic and commercial cooperation and friendly exchanges on various fronts. The foreign ministers of the two countries are scheduled to meet in July to review the progress and carry the process further.

There is a glimmer of light but everyone knows it’s a long way to the end of the tunnel. What is important is that the two nations are back to the table and are talking to each other earnestly. Whichever teams wins today, Chandigarh will be an important milestone in the road to peace between the two nations. It could end up being a win-win for both countries.





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