India and Pakistan: the Engagement Must Go On
It took about ten phone rings before I picked up.
“Good morning, ma’am”, said the very apologetic voice, “so sorry to bother you but the police are here and they need to speak to you”.
I begrudgingly opened my eyes to look around my hotel room and remembered the city I had woken up in. So in my best ‘I wasn’t asleep at 11 am’ voice I said “could you please ring room 212 they will take care of it’.
“Sure ma’am, no problem. So sorry to disturb you.”
I was lying in bed at the Taj President hotel in Bombay (or Mumbai if you prefer) two weeks after the terror attacks in November 2008. The occasion: a family wedding–it is South Asia after all, the wedding must go on. I had just told the very polite duty manager to call my parents room as all our passports were together and my father would have to sit with a few Indian policemen whose task it is to check that every Pakistani national who enters India is who they are and are staying at the address they gave on their immigration form.
If I hadn’t been fortunate enough to have been issued a non-police reporting visa I would have had to have gone down to the police station atleast twice during my five day trip. Having seen my home city of Karachi reel from dozens of terrorist attacks, I was curious to see what the atmosphere would be like in Bombay. Visiting a city in the days after a horrific terrorist attack teaches you a great deal about that city and its inhabitants; the good, the bad and the political opportunists all rise to the surface and battle it out before any dust has settled. Apart from the hysteria on the television channels (I hadn’t realised India and Pakistan were close to war again until I landed in the subcontinent) the city was, as expected, getting on with things. The new wing of the Taj Mahal Palace Hotel opened its doors again the day after I arrived as a symbol of the city’s resilience. I expected nothing less.
It is odd to think that with all this global communication there is still an element of mystery as to how and what people over the border think. I gather there is probably less curiosity about India in Pakistan but you can never evade talking politics when Pakistanis and Indians meet. And you generally avoid talking cricket.
India-Pakistan relations suffered a major set back in the wake of the terror attack in Bombay. For ordinary Pakistanis the most practical gauge of relations is answered by the following: ‘how difficult is it to get a visa’? Most of the traffic is Pakistanis wanting to visit India, not so much the other way around. In 2007 there were roughly 1 million Pakistani tourists visiting India. After the terror attacks, not only has the Indian government made it more difficult for applicants from Pakistan to apply but even the US, UK and other countries. Pakistan in turn makes it difficult for Indians to apply for visas as well. Better known as tit-for-tat engagment.
As talks between the Foreign Ministers took place in Delhi in February it was no surprise that there were no substantial outcomes. This was the primer meeting before potential talks at the level of heads of state, possibly in April at the sidelines of the UN conference on nuclear security. While no one would downplay the importance of India and Pakistan engaging at the negotiating table again, the outlook for future talks which would address key issues of terrorism, territory, Kashmir and water is limited. While India still reprimands Pakistan for not doing enough to counter terrorism in Kashmir and elsewhere in India, Pakistan holds India accountable for insurgent activity in Baluchistan. Moreover, since the attacks in Bombay, Afghanistan has been brought into focus as another area of contention between the two countries.
India and Pakistan have fought four wars and held dozens of talks since parition in 1947. As India assumes a more prominent role on the world stage it will only reinforce its stance of dealing with the conflict bi-laterally. Yet, after over 60 years of on and off bi-lateral dialogue there has been limited progress made in their relations, let alone them being really close to solving the pivotal issue of Kashmir (although Musharraf has stated they had come close when he was in power). While the US has reiterated it will not mediate between the two countries (at India’s behest, Pakistan has frequently asked for mediation), it begs the question of whether the countries really can sort things out bi-laterally and have ‘composite dialogue’?
The stability of the region is of paramount importance not just to India and Pakistan but the global community. But there is also substantial money to be made via increased trade links and perhaps most importantly (if superficially), there is joy to be had in being able to go to Bombay for the weekend from Karachi instead of dusty, colourless Dubai; the possibilities in peace would be endless.
The views expressed by the author are personal.
Photo of Indian and Pakistani Foreign Ministers by Dawn
Follow us on twitter@thefastertimes
- 1 Amanda Bynes’s Behavior Revealed to Be Elaborate PSA
- 2 Obama Horrified by the Grammar in Our Emails
- 3 Incidental Boob Graze Redeems Trust Fall Exercise
- 4 Monster Fart Prompting Management to Rethink “Open Office”
- 5 NSA Demanded Access To Un-Filtered Instagram Photos
- 6 Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson Ambushed By Alan ‘The Paper’ Rubinstein
- 7 Local Bully: Gay Boy Scouts a Dream Come True
- 8 ‘Licensed to Kim Jong Il’ Records 27th Straight Year Atop N. Korean Charts
- 9 ‘A/S/L’ Most Asked Question At Kaplan Online University Reunion
- 10 Stanley Cup Final One Blowout Away From “Boston Massacre” Headline Outrage