Politics is the art of the possible, and the leaders of India and Pakistan are mature enough to remember this. They are also only too conscious of the fact that they lead the only two nuclear weapons States in the world that share frontiers fraught with commonplace aggression and the depredations of shadowy men who sow terror. The Non-Aligned Movement summit in Havana was replete with posturing, chiefly by the ‘Axis of Evil’ that George W Bush loves to hate and by an ailing revolutionary whose firm hand-shake made news even when it was virtual. The Non-Aligned are starting to look a little bit like a pack of proselytisers with no gospel to spread, and they needed some good news. Manmohan Singh and Pervez Musharraf gave it to them. The ‘anti-terrorism institutional mechanism’ clearly bears the hallmark of an Indian word-smithy, and New Delhi has emerged the maturer in this minuet.
Time and again, India has swallowed the terror and the mayhem, this time the Mumbai train blasts, to condescend to continue the dialogue. Kargil, Kandahar, Parliament House, Akshardham and Mumbai have traced an arc of blood and bellicosity across the subcontinent’s skies, and it needs courage and statesmanship to persevere on the rough road to peace. Not that the Prime Minister and India’s able diplomats are the only tight-rope walkers. Mr Musharraf has shown himself to be an adroit survivor. Next month he will celebrate seven years in power, and he is a master acrobat. Islamabad has so many irons in the furnace — Kashmir, Balochistan, the Taliban, and the price of Mr Bush’s friendship — that it is a wonder it does not accidentally brand itself. But where will all this lead? Setting up another agency to discuss ‘cross-border terrorism’ will not get the neighbours to a point where peace breaks out in all its glory. Economic engagement is probably the only way for people on both sides to realise that an absence of hostility can mean an abundance of opportunity.
Havana was a good place to take stock. It cannot have escaped the leaders of India and Pakistan that the sepia-toned conjugations of anti-Yankee rhetoric only thinly mask the ravages of a stand-off that dates back to the middle of the last century. It cannot have escaped the two men that so much more could have been achieved by their own nations if there had not been such an enduring absence of reason. But we are only slouching towards Valhalla. Siachen, Sir Creek and the bus service are only signposts. Far, far away you can see the tiny dot where the two lanes converge. At least now you can see it again.