It was just the other day that we saw business as usual in the neighbourhood. The dragon was breathing fire at the border and Pakistan was playing its customary role of irritant. Today, the plot seems to have changed with India agreeing to resume bilateral cricketing ties with Pakistan as well as high-level defence exchanges with China. Quite a turn up for the books in this neck of the woods. India’s backing Pakistani Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani’s proposal for a three-match series in Pakistan, of course, is a vindication that the ‘cricket diplomacy’ that Prime Minister Manmohan Singh initiated was no flash-in-the pan and that the Mohali spirit can be carefully extended. In China, meanwhile, where Mr Singh met the Chinese President Hu Jintao on the sidelines of the BRICS Summit, an understanding was reached to resume high-level defence exchanges that had remained suspended since last year when China had decided to issue a stapled visa to an Indian Army commander because he headed troops in Jammu and Kashmir.
Attempting to get things back on an even keel with Pakistan on the cricket front, where ties have remained suspended since the 26/11 attacks in Mumbai, must have been a difficult call. For one, the security of the cricketers themselves will be a matter of concern, haunted as we are by memories of the Sri Lankan cricketing team running for cover during a terrorist attack in Lahore in March 2009. Politically, the Opposition is screaming blue murder and has interpreted these gestures as signs of a pusillanimous, weak-kneed diplomacy, especially in the wake of the fresh disclosures that Tahawwur Hussain Rana has implicated the Pakistan government and its intelligence agency ISI, and not the Lashkar-e-Tayyeba, in the 26/11 attacks. As far as Beijing goes, there has been a considerable amount of apprehension about recent reports that Chinese troops have been amassing near India’s Line of Control with Pakistan. China, decidedly mellow and probably eager to allay those fears, has cleared up a host of irritants in bilateral ties, agreeing to a new border management mechanism to ensure “peace and tranquility” and accepting New Delhi’s complaints regarding trade barriers for Indian exports.
These are only incremental steps but assume considerable significance given the hypersensitive nature of relations between India and these two neighbours. But the government has done well to grasp the nettle and keep lines of communication open on the grounds that this minimises risks of conflict among nuclear-armed nations. In the event the outcome is concrete, the advantages will far outweigh any hiccups that may have been encountered during the process. The government and its security establishment also agree that in spite of the feet dragging by Pakistan over investigation into the 26/11 attacks, ‘no talk’ is no longer a feasible option if there is ever to be any degree of normalisation in India-Pakistan relations. Notwithstanding previous false starts, it is possible that Mr Singh may have sown the seeds of better relations on a 22-yard pitch of cricket.