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Bilateral bonhomie

India’s latest effort to improve bilateral relations with Pakistan is welcome. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh rang up his new Pakistani counterpart, Syed Yusuf Raza Gilani, on Tuesday to greet him.

india Updated: Mar 27, 2008 00:27 IST

India’s latest effort to improve bilateral relations with Pakistan is welcome. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh rang up his new Pakistani counterpart, Syed Yusuf Raza Gilani, on Tuesday to greet him and express his wish for India-Pakistan ties to become the ‘best ever’. This optimism obviously springs from the hope that the new political dispensation in Islamabad will be keen to sort out the contentious issues in Indo-Pak ties. Never mind if such sanguinity proved to be misplaced in several instances in the past. When an earthquake devastated Muzaffarabad in 2005, Islamabad even turned down New Delhi’s offer of conducting joint rescue operations (probably afraid of Indian forces discovering the bodies of foreign terrorists who were hiding there). As a result, thousands of Pakistanis buried under the debris lost their lives, waiting for French rescuers who arrived too late.

But this time round, there is more than one reason to believe that things will improve. Bilateral relations are clearly better than ever before, with more interaction between people across the border. Intellectuals, academics, think-tanks, and artists are increasingly talking to each other, and the peace dialogue and Track II diplomacy in the sidelines continue despite constant irritants. Another reason for hope is the post-poll scenario in Pakistan. Although the road to real democracy there is still a long one, the fact remains that for the first time in Pakistan’s history, the military is on the backfoot. As an institution, the army stands to lose its credibility and hold over the polity — and most importantly, the huge, khaki corporate empire it has built up in the last 50-odd years.

As it fights a spreading Islamist insurgency at home, the army faces a crisis perhaps far graver than what it faced after the 1971 war. Army Chief General Kayani knows this only too well, the way he has apparently instructed his commanders to shun politics and focus on professional responsibilities. This gives the civilian government the best chance yet to chart out a new foreign policy for Pakistan with minimal military interference. Hopefully, grasping the hand of friendship offered by India will be one of its major inputs.