A sensible offer
Competition, it seems, can be beneficial for relations between two long-bickering countries. Preceding decades have taught us how domestic compulsions (read: playing to the gallery) have goaded the leaderships in India and Pakistan to ratchet up the rhetoric against each other. The old refrain had been along these lines: we want to coexist in peace, but they will have nothing of it. Now, there seems to be a new kind of one-upmanship being displayed by Islamabad and New Delhi. Essentially, this involves taking credit for pushing for subcontinental peace.
On Friday, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh called for a friendship treaty with Pakistan to “give meaning and substance to our quest for shared goals”. This can be construed as a response for the many incremental ‘suggestions’ of settling the Kashmir dispute that President Pervez Musharraf has been airing in the recent past. It can also be seen as India’s genuine belief that friendly relations between the two nations can be developed only when ‘Kashmir’ stops being an obsession and, thereby, an obstacle to all other issues. Either way, it showcases the willingness on New Delhi’s part to ‘get on with it’, rather than be perceived as perpetually reacting to enthusiasm from the other side. Over the last few weeks, Mr Musharraf had been toning down his ‘Kashmir-centric’ plan. This has as much to do with the realisation that the general was simply throwing ‘nice’ but unworkable ideas into the air as it has to do with President George Bush unwilling to broker a deal with India and Pakistan over Kashmir. Mr Singh’s offer at this juncture may make Mr Musharraf say a few finger-wagging words about Kashmir again. But this should be seen as something that he is beholden to do in response to an Indian bona fide offer.
Pakistan has, in the past, rejected any notion of a peace pact that insists on not linking the normalisation of other relations with finding a solution to J&K. It is up to Islamabad to take note of how relations have been developing with India now that Kashmir is, de facto, not the be-all and end-all of bilateral relations. It is also up to Islamabad to see how far it has come to a solution by riding its one-trick pony. As for India, extending the hand of friendship to Pakistan is not only a good gesture but it also makes eminent sense.