It may take an avalanche to inspire a snowfall. In calling for the demilitarisation of the Siachen glacier, Pakistani military chief Ashfaq Parvez Kayani on Wednesday did not say anything new. India controls the commanding heights of the glacier and can better afford the costs of maintaining its position in the world's highest battlefield. In purely military terms, India has the upper hand and is less enthusiastic about a mutual pullout. Diplomatically, New Delhi has also insisted that Pakistan must delineate an extension of the Line of Control before a withdrawal is possible. But politically a Siachen agreement would be a wonderful fillip to the Indo-Pakistan peace process. It is seen by the public of both sides as a wasteful battleground. This was underlined by the recent avalanche that killed 138 Pakistanis. Across the border, the Indian decision to capture most of the glacier is seen as a symbol of bilateral betrayal.
Siachen is not the sort of issue whose resolution can be put on the fast lane. However, it can be taken out of the deep freeze and thus contribute to the sort of positive atmosphere that the peace process needs. With this speech, General Kayani has publicly endorsed the Indo-Pakistan peace process once again. He made similar sounds in favour of Pakistan resuming normal trade ties with India. The contrast is with his first years as military head when he said nothing about the process, privately criticised it and probably actively sabotaged efforts by the civilian government. No one should believe that General Kayani is mellowing in his view of India as a threat. His own statements indicate that he is talking up relations with India because he believes the cost of non-accommodation is simply too high for his country to bear right now. This has only been exacerbated by the collapse of the US relationship, the social damage being inflicted by the violence on the Afghan border and the state of Pakistan's economy in general.
The military's response to Siachen and most-favoured-nation status are welcome developments. General Kayani is following down the same path that his predecessor, Pervez Musharraf, walked: a deep hatred for India metamorphosing into an acceptance that engagement was a tactical necessary and, finally, a genuine commitment to the peace process. What does seem to be different, however, is that events like the avalanche tragedy are strengthening a sense among Pakistanis in general that being estranged from India does not serve their country. And, more strikingly, that India may actually be part of the solution to what ails Pakistan.