Beyond Thimphu

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has chosen to start all over again with Pakistan. On the margins of the South Asia summit in Thimphu this week, he agreed to begin talks with Pakistan that were suspended after the Mumbai attack in November 2008. In return, he has got assurances from his counterpart, Yousaf Raza Gilani, that Islamabad will indeed act against the sources of anti-India terrorism on Pakistani soil. The questions that stare at us after the Thimphu talks are not about the technical details of the diplomatic finesse that helped revive the peace process. That we can leave to the textualists. The real question is a political one. Why is Dr Singh so persistent, when the odds seem so heavily stacked against him?

The conservatives in the PM’s own party have had no stomach for a sustained peace process with all the attendant domestic political risks. The cynical commentariat says it has seen this Indo-Pak movie before. It expects the new edition of the peace process to simply disintegrate in the flames of the next terror attack on India. Like his two predecessors, Inder Kumar Gujral and Atal Bihari Vajpayee, the PM believes that a durable peace with Pakistan is critical for the realisation of India’s aspirations of peace and prosperity at home, and a larger role in world affairs. It is therefore in Delhi’s own interest, he has insisted so often, to overcome the bitter legacies of Partition. You might even say it is India’s “karma” and “dharma” to strive for that structural change in Indo-Pak relations despite its apparent elusiveness.

Whether he succeeds or not, history will record that Dr Singh has gone farther than any Indian leader in exploring with Pakistan a framework for the resolution of the Kashmir dispute and the full normalisation of bilateral relations. More progress occurred in Indo-Pak relations under his watch during 2004-07, than in the previous four decades. Dr Singh knows having a vision is not enough to generate the peace; one also needs a credible interlocutor across the table and lots of political luck. Are Gilani and his backers in the Pakistan army capable and willing to deliver on the terms of the new peace process that Dr Singh has hammered out in Thimphu? The answer to this question won’t be long in coming. As it waits, Delhi must send unmistakable signals of its own commitment to the peace process in the coming days. In rolling out what could be his last peace venture with Pakistan, Dr Singh has no time to lose nor is there room for complacence after Thimphu.


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