The middle path is usually a much-maligned option in any bilateral dialogue. But in the case of India and Pakistan, it appears the only viable one at present. The very fact that the atmospherics surrounding the talks between Indian foreign secretary Nirupama Rao and her Pakistani counterpart Salman Bashir on the sidelines of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (Saarc) meeting in Thimphu were upbeat, almost warm, is good news after months of gridlock on several crucial issues, the principal being terrorism. The fact that this could happen despite Pakistan's churlish attempts to rake up the issue of 'Hindu' terrorism and India's indulgent stand towards it speaks of a certain maturity and pragmatism that the region can't go forward as long as the big two are at each other's throats.
For Pakistan, it's clear that its ability to sabre rattle is getting limited by the day. For one, its internal situation is in a shambles with terror becoming a part of daily life. The country's civilian government exists only on paper with the shadowy ISI and army controlling everything. With India's initiatives on Kashmir, the K-card appears one of diminishing returns for the moment. And most worrying for Pakistan, its staunch ally - the US - seems to be in high dudgeon after an American citizen was arrested for killing two Pakistanis. Washington has petulantly suspended all dialogue with its favourite ally pending the release of the offender. Both India and Pakistan are aware of how much it would benefit them if the issues on the backburner like water-sharing, confidence-building and terror could at least be resolved partially.
That both are prisoners of internal compulsions has been the tragedy for the region. It's not been lost on Saarc members that this desperately poor part of the world has been held hostage to the tensions between the two nuclear-armed nations for decades. India, with its booming economy, can afford to wait and watch. Pakistan is not in this fortunate position. It is already being referred to as an almost failed State and the epicentre of terrorism. In this context, it would be downright foolish not to take advantage of the positive atmosphere generated at Thimphu and try and begin resolving outstanding issues with India. The late strategic guru K Subrahmanyam presciently referred to Pakistan's support for terror outfits as akin to nurturing a venomous snake which would turn on it sooner rather than later. This is an observation Pakistan should keep in mind in the run-up to foreign minister-level talks later this year. The middle path is fine for now, but it has to branch off into the high road in the not too distant future.